Chapter 3:

Treat ‘em Mean

The Wizard's Virginity

The afternoon passed uneventfully, giving the blood in my body a much-needed opportunity to travel to places other than my crotch. We had a careers lecture in the afternoon, where some teacher told us about the importance of choosing what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. I thought it was ironic, a person who spent their days talking at bored students about things they didn’t care about, telling us about how one should work hard and follow their passion to achieve their dreams. It was very much a ‘do what I say and not what I do’ kinda deal.

This was the whole year group, so Dan was able to sit next to me to protect me from Reiko or any other female students who might have been foolish enough to come near. I did see Reiko enter the hall, accompanied by an entourage of girls chatting incessantly at her. Reiko didn’t seem to take much interest, and surveyed everyone already in the hall carefully, a serious expression on her face that I hadn’t seen before, until she spotted me. The serious face was then replaced with her usual dazzling smile, and she moved to approach me.

Then she seemed to notice Dan. I had deliberately sat at the end of the aisle, so the only seat next to me was the one Dan occupied. It was at a distance, so I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I saw her expression change again. Just for an instant, she appeared to look… Angry.

The girls with her grabbed her hand and made her sit with them at the other end of the hall, and I let out a breath, the relief making me forget about that momentary flash of anger I thought I saw.

Dan and I continued our conversation about the video games I’d been playing over the Easter break. He didn’t game much himself, usually being busy with learning some obscure language or playing a random sport, but he tolerated listening to me talk about them. Besides, it’s not like Dan had zero interest in games. He would often come round after school for local multiplayer sessions, and would routinely destroy me when we played anything with a versus mode. I always thought his talents were put to waste: he could have been an esports player or a streamer, but instead he preferred to educate himself and do outdoor hobbies. Such a shame.

Once the careers lecture started, we stopped talking, and I immediately zoned out. I didn’t have much interest in careers. My vague plan was to stay in education as long as possible, building up as much student debt as the government would allow, until I hit my 30th birthday. At that point, I could use my powers to direct the course of the rest of my life, and do all sorts of incredible things. Until then, I was comfortable just existing.


Neither of us had any more lessons that afternoon, so after making a quick exit from the hall, I invited Dan back to my house to hang out, rather than waiting for the official end of the school day.

“I know you said your arm was better, but I figure that if there is any lingering pain, it’ll give me the edge in some fighting game. Maybe you won’t be able to move your fingers so damn quickly.”

“Um, let me just check with my aunt.” Dan pulled out his phone and walked a few steps away, just out of earshot, and started a call. Although I couldn’t hear the conversation, I could see that his mouth was set in a firm line, his brow furrowed. He nodded as he spoke, and looked more like a middle-aged businessman asking for a holiday from his boss than a teenager talking to his guardian.

I didn’t talk to Dan about his family situation. I tried a bit more back in the early days of our friendship, but he always seemed on edge, and eventually told me it was complicated and he didn’t want to talk about it. At one point I was worried that he might be getting beaten by his dad or something, due to all his regular injuries, and I pushed the subject harder. He then told me that he didn’t have a dad, and that he lived with his aunt, who kept pretty close tabs on him. As a fellow fatherless son, I knew what it was like to have an unconventional family, and felt bad for pressuring him to tell me about it. Now I took the approach of minding my own business. Between his hobbies and his strict aunt, I knew he had enough to keep him busy, so I never felt offended when he couldn’t hang out with me.

Dan finished his conversation and came back over, holding his thumb up and grinning. “We’re all good. I have permission to kick your arse.”

We walked out the school grounds and down the road to the public bus stop, so we could catch an earlier bus home. I kept an eye out for Reiko. I told myself I was doing it so I could avoid her, but maybe a small part of me wanted to see her. As strong as my convictions were about keeping away from girls, I was still a teenage boy, and it was hard to completely forego my natural instincts. Regardless of my motivations, we didn’t see her. I figured anyway that by that point, the gaggle of girls who had adopted her had told Reiko about my dark past, and she wouldn’t be so keen to learn about me anymore.

“What’s on your mind?” Dan had a strange talent for letting me get just enough into my thoughts as I needed to, and then prompting me out of it before I went too deep. Sometimes it was a bit unnerving, but other times, like now, it was appreciated.

I sighed. “Okay, you probably guessed, but I was thinking about the exchange student.”


“No, Pierre - the exchange student from France.”

Dan laughed. “I think 90% of the guys in our year are thinking about Reiko. It’s not that unusual.”

“Yeah, but 90% of the guys in our year aren’t trying to maintain their virginity to unlock hidden magical powers.”

“True, it must only be like, 4%. 5% at most.”

I lightly punched Dan’s arm. We both knew that I was the only kid in school, probably the only kid in the country, weird enough to believe in something like this. I had good reasons for my belief, of course, but I could still see how crazy it must appear to anyone else. Not that I particularly cared.

“The thing that I’m caught on, though,” I continued. “Is why she seems so interested in me?”

“Are you sure she is interested in you? I’m not trying to put you down - maybe the skinny, average-looking white boy who needs to spend more time in the sun is considered super hot in Japan. But if not, then… I mean, what’s your evidence?”

“Well, she smiled at me at the bus stop this morning.”

Dan smirked, and I continued.

“And then she tried to sit next to me on the bus. And then she sat next to me in form.”

“Yeah, because Mr Panchal told her to. You have the same lessons.”

“Then before Biology she said that she wanted to learn all about me. And she smiled at me a bunch.” The more I spoke, the more I realised that, even by my standards, I sounded pretty insane right now. “Okay, so, maybe she’s just a friendly Japanese girl trying to learn more about our culture. But the thing that gets me - I’ve been nothing but rude to her. Why would she still be so keen on staying near me?”

Dan paused for a moment, and rubbed his chin. “Remember the time you were put in pairs with Sara, and would only communicate with her through email, despite being sat next to her in the computer room?”

“Yeah, that was a valid tactic.”

“Apart from she thought you were flirting, and started sending back winky emojis and hearts. And then you took the next week off school to avoid having to do the group work with her.”

“Again, I don't see the problem.”

“The problem is that maybe your actions don't always have the desired results. You know that whole 'treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen' thing? And that famous book about how insulting girls is the best way to make them like you?”

I didn't respond, but could see what Dan was getting at.

“Maybe if you were nicer to girls - not necessarily friendly, but just civil - you would actually make life easier for yourself?”

“...You have a point.”

“Of course I do, I’m the best! All that being said though…” Dan’s expression became more serious, similar to this morning when he warned me to be careful. “Some girls are crazy. Watch out for those ones.”

He didn’t need to say any more. The Incident weighed heavily on both of us. Sure, it might have directly involved me, but it can’t have been easy for him to be the only person who still chose to hang out with the ‘violent creep’.

I pushed those thoughts aside, and moved the conversation on to what game we should play.


“Oooh, you’re back early,” Mum said as I stepped into the hallway. “Lucky I already sent the Milkman home.”

“Firstly, that’s disgusting. Secondly, milkmen don’t exist anymore. We have Tesco home delivery now.”

“Yeah…” Mum sighed. “And the Tesco delivery man just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe we should give Sainsbury’s a try.”

Dan laughed loudly behind me. Mum’s sense of humour had long since grown stale to me, who was subjected to it every day, but to Dan it was still a novelty.

“Ah, Dan’s with you! Come on in, love.”

“Thanks, Laura. You’re looking nice today.”

Mum insisted that Dan called her by her first name, but it always seemed weirdly intimate to me. Dan knew this, and so leaned into it by complimenting Mum every chance he got.

“Oh Dan, you’re such a charmer. You can come round more often! Although, no offence, I do dream of the day that James brings home someone who isn’t you. You know, as a growing boy. With ‘needs’.”

“Jesus, Mum!” I shouted. “I’ve been home five seconds, and you’re already talking about this stuff. I’ve told you a million times, I’m not interested!”

“Is that so? Some of the reading material you keep in your room suggests that you are very much interested.”

I felt my face turn red. “Those are purely educational!”

“Well, either way, maybe one day you'll find a nice person to do ‘stuff’ with. And you never know, they could be closer than you think!” She looked meaningfully at Dan, then back at me, and raised her eyebrows several times.

“I might not want a girlfriend, but that doesn't mean I'm gay.”

Mum shrugged. “I don't think that matters - you're attracted to who you're attracted to. Although maybe if you were gay, you'd dress a bit nicer, rather than only wearing your school uniform or tracksuits.”

“Mum, that has got to be some kind of offensive stereotype. Being gay doesn't mean that you're fashionable.”

She shook her head. “I’ve lived a lot longer than you have, and I’ve never met a gay man who doesn't have amazing fashion sense. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever met a straight man who does have amazing fashion sense. Wow, I could be on to something here…”

I decided at this point to very subtly extract myself from the conversation, by grabbing Dan's arm and dragging him upstairs before Mum shared more inappropriate musings about the links between sexuality and style.

Just as we got to my bedroom door, Dan’s phone buzzed.

“Sorry, I better take this.” Dan went down the hall, but my house wasn’t big enough that he could get out of earshot completely this time. “Shit, really? Okay. Yeah, okay. I’m with him now. Yeah, I’ll come back. Okay.”

“I’ll destroy you later in the week?”

Dan tried smiling, but I could see it was forced. Something must be up, but still, he’d tell me if he wanted me to know. “Sure thing. Sorry.”

“No worries, bud. See you tomorrow. I’ll be counting on you to protect me from any horny Japanese school girls.”

Dan furrowed his brow, as though confused, but then seemed to remember.

“Ahh, yeah. Sure, I’ll be your human shield. I can think of worse things to protect you from.” With that, he sprinted off downstairs, and out of the house.