I can hear the crunch of shoes against gravel as James jogs to catch up. As we head to the front door, another young man slides up beside me and leans towards my ear.

“I wouldn’t hang out with this guy if I were you. Bad influence.”

I try not to look startled by his sudden appearance. Although he pretends to be speaking to me, he talks loud enough for James to hear him.

“Watch it,” James scolds as he reaches behind my back to shove the interloper away.

The new guy chuckles with amusement.

“This is Erik.” James introduces the young man with copper skin and long, black hair. He’s slightly taller than James with a slender build. His smile is broad and friendly compared to James’s boyish grin, but he smells of nicotine.

Erik offers his hand, and I accept it’s warm hospitality.

“Amber,” I say in return.

“Nice to meet you, Amber, but seriously,” he continues, as he adjusts the strap of his backpack. “This guy is not going to get you a seat at the popular table.”

I laugh, “I don’t belong there anyway.”

“Ok,” he shruggs, “You’ve been warned.”

James narrows his eyes at Erik in a silent warning. I try not to smile, but I have to admit the banter on my behalf is flattering.

“If he’s such a bad influence, why do you hang out with him?” I try to sound casual.

“Because,” Erik defiantly looks at James, “I like trouble.”

This makes James laugh.

“What kind of trouble does he get into?” Now, I start to suspect there might be some truth to Erik’s claim.

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