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Stones - Chapter 1

by fayroberts 

Posted: 15 August 2006
Word Count: 9840
Summary: originally written and conceived as a short story, this has since been fleshed out in my head as more of an introductory chapter to a larger (but not large) work.

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

“Yo!” says Thompson, grabbing me by the arm from behind as we go down the corridor.

“Yo yourself, my dull-witted anachronistic buddy,” I reply.

Hoo! What’s eating you?!”

“Nothing. Unfortunately.” We both snicker dutifully and stumble onwards.

“Looks like you made morning assembly this time, then,” I observe as acerbically as I can.

“Yeah – didn’t fancy getting my arse tanned by Miss Thrush again!”

We both snicker again – thrush, geddit? Look, we’re only fifteen...

Kinky!” kind of like Kenneth Williams. Only not really (mimicry really isn’t my thing). Mrs. Johnson (more snickers at appropriate moments) glares and we’re swept by in a crush of other inmates, sorry pupils, round into the school gym, to have our tender young brains turned to mush.

Corporate religion penetrates our skulls like a mild acid; bleaching, sterilising and slowly destroying in a cumulative effect. Jones 4 wrote that (or words along those lines) in a fourth-form magazine – the quasi-revolutionary treatise Chalk Scars which survived for three issues before Mrs, Archer found it, burned all available copies in a public bonfire and disciplined those implicated (though not all – her network of spies and informers not being omniscient) personally. I think what upset them was not the bad language, caricatures of the staff or the occasional call to arms but the clever bits – the long words used to devastating effect and especially the crueller observations of Jones 4.

In serried rank on rank the partly-washed, grey-clad, grey-faced pupils face the music. And the sermons, and the announcements. The non-Christians aren’t allowed to back out, even accompanied by letters from parents. Even if they wrote home, all knowledge would be denied. It would be their word versus the school’s. Guess who’d win out? The Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans and atheists hold their tongues and make their own obeisances when they think no-one’s looking. Mostly, though, no-one cares – we all just want to get out, even though it means to lessons. Anything would be better than this – forced to stand enduring this crap from adults who should know better in a freezing edifice created for the greater glory of Sport (bleuch). Added to which we also have to endure Mrs. Archer’s tone-deaf confident fog-horn and Mr. Evans the chemistry teacher’s mercurial sense of humour which leads him to sing the wrong tune or words or whisper jokes to us knowing full well he can keep a straight face better than anyone, the bastard.

A couple are making out surreptitiously in front of us. Brushing hands grow bolder and sneak to more sensitive areas than shoulders and flanks. I lean forward, terrified for them. “Stop it!” I whisper, slapping a hand away. “Archer’s watching!” Indeed she is. Me. I catch a 1250ºC glare and register with a sinking feeling that, against all statistical probability, this morning is going to get worse.

I’m snagged on the way out and the reprimand delivered piercingly. ‘Horsing about!’ ‘Setting a bad example to younger pupils!’ It ends with the admonition that she’s watching me. Surprise sur-fucking-prise.

“Bastard,” I mutter on the way out down the corridor. Thompson’s waited for me. “I bet she’s never had it!”

“Fool,” says Thompson. “She’s married.”


“Good point – who’d shag that?”

“My point precisely. It explains why she’s so fucking tense all the time – she isn’t getting any.”

“Never had any. Heh heh. Hey – what’s wrong?”

I’m looking pissed-off again. I can’t help it.


I never can keep anything from Thompson.

“It’s this.” I wave a folded piece of paper. “Got it this morning.”

“What’s it say?”

“What you think?”

“Is it from – ?”


“And is it – ?”


There’s a beat of silence, filled only by the sound of two hundred young people in a narrow brick corridor heading in seven different directions at once and commenting on the fact.

“Shit man – dumped.”


“Sorry. But does J– “

“I don’t want to hear that name. That name doesn’t exist!”

“Alright, man.” I must look pretty fierce. “Chill the hell out, dude,” in a Butthead voice.

“Fool,” I say, almost fondly.

* * *

We’re in Maths. Double desks, which means conversation. Or more securely-passed notes in the presence of stricter teachers.

“Couldn’t say it to your face?”


“The cunt.”

“Thanks, Thompson, but I think I’d rather not talk about it.”

“It might do you good.”

“I don’t want to be done good – I want to become bitter and twisted thinking up methods of revenge until I become obsessive enough to carry them out.”

“You’re one weird, twisted m– “

“Stop talking now,” says Miss Jenkins. We struggle reluctantly to our feet with much scraping of chairs. “Sit down. Now, I’ve got to introduce you to a new pupil – Laura Castle. She’s had to come to us in the middle of the term for various reasons, so I hope you show her a little courtesy and kindness.” Jenkins is alright, actually – quite young and sarcastic in a funny way rather than an evil way. She was cool when I was having a rough time two years ago, too. At this moment I’m not looking at her, I’m looking at Laura Castle. Pale on pale – white, parchment skin and seraphic hair. She seems to glow. She also manages to fit our prison-issue uniform with devastating ease. Glorious blossom, earth-bound goddess. Diadem of girlhood, thy name is Laura.

“Fuck me, she’s gorgeous!” I hiss sideways.

Come to Butthead,” mutters Thompson.

“You can all stop that muttering and shuffling,” remarks Miss Jenkins. I look around at the class – not a few of the others are making similar comments, verbal or visual, as me and Butthead.

“Thompson, you can stop that grinning and fetch Miss Castle a textbook and exercise book from the back of the class.” Miss Castle has blushed a delightful (delighted?) colour at our attention and makes haste to sit down in the front row.

Thompson struggles assertively to obey both commands and only partially succeeds. Laura Castle receives a somewhat sweat-printed couple of books.

“That’ll do,” says Jenkins.

Thompson returns.

“Cunt,” I remark.

“Double cunt.”

“Hmm. Interesting.”

Jenkins proceeds to shred our brains with quadratic algebra that almost makes me wish I had dropped down to the dumbo class, except I’d be missing the still-glowing ear, partial left cheek, back and glorious bright hair of Miss Castle.

“Stop it,” hisses Thompson.

“Stop what?” All innocence.


“How do you know what I’m doing if you’re not doing it?”

“Who said I wasn’t? I’m just saying you should stop. She’s way out of your league, anyway.”

I sputter for a bit and knuckle down under Jenkins’ watchful eye.

Says who? I write after a while in my workings-out book.

Says me.

Yeah, right, Casanova – with all your great experience.

Fuck you.

No – fuck you.

Fuck YOU.

Fuck you.

Fuck you!!

This continues for some time.

Some work is achieved, and after a while I settle into the rhythm. Maths is cool, actually, coz there’s only one answer. And it doesn’t matter, so long as you’re right – it’s nothing to do with any teacher’s opinion. All right, I’m still smarting from a less than tender appraisal of my last piece of creative writing, so screw you, anyway.

Jenkins reviews answers and I only have one wrong. I can see where the mistake was too – not too bad. I award myself with a flourishing pen. Sweet.

“Boff,” mutters Thompson, who got 11.

The bell is ringing and the freedom of the corridor calls. I can get excited about that – revel in noise, physical exertion which doesn’t involve thugs armed with wooden sticks and whistles blasting in my ear (in an attempt to be modern the school dictates that we all get to do hockey and football – joy). I can talk to people. It’s only like three minutes, but it’s cool. Enough for the moment. French, Break, Double English. I’m not thinking about D.E. – things will be hairy on about seventeen different levels, oh all right – three. You’ll see.

“Yo, Castle – got French?” calls Thompson all casual-like.

“Um, yes.” I don’t think I’m imagining it, but it’s a pretty voice. Two quiet syllables in all this racket – it must be a pretty voice. Couldn’t fancy a girl with a bad voice.

“Cool. Zees wye.” We’re all swept along companionably by the awfulness of Thompson’s accent. Castle doesn’t know it’s fake, of course – Thomson can imitate anyone. Anyone or anything. Unfortunately not a fire alarm, but we toyed with that idea for far too long...

French is in a cool, dim room on the top floor of the modern block – a few strides from the Maths lesson, so we’ve just enough time to exhaust variations on the theme of: “It’s up here, like,” before the whole situation gets too embarrassing and one of us explodes from mutual blushing. See, I hardly ever blush – lazy blood or something – but when I do it’s like my face is being burned by steam. Steam from inside my own head. Freaky image.

We go to our accustomed seats, unfortunately alphabetical because Miss Grainger likes to know where everyone is. She has very little control over her own life – well, guessing by the hair – so she exercises it over details. Like where we sit. And shit like what colour pens we use. No other teacher finds black a problem but for Miss Grainger I have to pack a whole new pencil case. Which, of course, I have forgotten.

Maybe I should go for the Lottery (okay, get a sixth-former to buy the ticket, whatever), coz at this rate Mystic Meg better look out behind her. This day is getting worse.

Laura Castle’s out the front, ready to talk to Miss G, preparing to upset Miss G’s meticulous class layout. What will she do? Move everyone? Slot L.C. into a – gulp – non-alphabetical place? Force her to sit on my lap as a compromise? Damn – my surname begins with W. Scratch that, then. She’d probably sit her on Benson. Or Crawford. Crawford brushes past and grunts, Neanderthal brows lowering. I’ll probably come under hostile fire for invading enemy airspace. Ah, an impacted toe. What a pleasant way to start the lesson. What an honour. Thank you, Crawford. Never let it be said that I am cowed by your sheer physical, nay pachydermal menace. It’s the combination of that, your capacity for petty cruelty, your inexplicable popularity with otherwise sane and pleasant people, and your ubiquitous and evil minions that blights my waking hours. Please don’t put her by Crawford, I beg silently. Crawford wouldn’t know what to do with her.

I’ve winced my way to my desk, had a futile hunt for blue writing implements and am now watching, along with Thompson and other observant notables, the contretemps up front. Laura has presented herself to the frizzy one, who is peeved. We catch “awkward,” and “well, really,” and “Oh yes – I’ve been told about you,” which is very interesting indeed. It adds the allure of past sin to the golden Laura. Laura has raised her hands (narrow and slender-fingered... at least, at this distance) palm up and is remonstrating gently with Miss Grainger. In French. The kind of flawless French we can only dream about, or witness on dodgy Channel Four subtitled films. My God. It’s the kind of audacity Jones 4 would applaud vehemently – being cheeky by taking ‘good’ behaviour that step further. Superbulous.

And Miss G. is charmed – she really is. Even I can tell that the accent is impeccable and she smiles, stops her inexplicable fussing and gestures Laura towards the seat – oh boy – the seat at – the empty seat – the one that’s left after the end of the alphabet – the seat behind mine! I can’t see her, but I’ll feel her behind me. Breath tingling on my shoulder blades. Oops.

Maybe it’ll be easier once puberty’s over, I think to myself for pretty much the rest of the lesson. Once my hormone levels have dropped I won’t react to every pretty face like a, like a – oh, like a fifteen-year-old who’s just been dumped.

Maybe, I think morosely as I pack up my books and the detested pens of the night (“I think we’ve spoken about this before, haven’t we, Williams?”), if I could speak French I could write depressing just-been-dumped poetry in a more dramatic language.

Or maybe, I think more grimly as I’m accidentally thumped by a dozen shoulders and bags on the way past through the door, if I was tall and brawny I wouldn’t get this shit. Normally I couldn’t give a shit about my height or build. I think I’m kind of neat – trim, even. Slender, but unfortunately not athletic. More the starving scholar in garret look.

“Say what?” says Thompson, the latest thumper, but one I’ll put up with. I must have been muttering again. Thompson is tall and skinny, an early growth-spurter type, all long arms and big hands. Practically head and (giraffe) neck overlapping me. “Wassup?” just as I brush someone else, turn to apologise (automatically), and am caught in the dead in the eyes by the twin hazel headlamps of Laura Castle. And just as I’m about to invite her along to tuck shop or outside or wherever she may wish to go, she’s whisked off by Julia Prim, pin nose in air and subtle elbow to my ribs. “Come on – we’ll show you where everything is,” and the moment’s lost for good.

“Fuck Pimms,” remarks Thompson genially. “Plenty more opportunity, eh?”

I shudder. “Fuck her? Not likely – already got as much of that as I’d want.” I was her first School Snog (possibly her last – I dunno), and she’s never forgiven me.

“Like I was desperate for grabby hands and a poke in the eye with that nose. You think I’d seduced her or raped her or something.” We’re sitting on the wall (outrage!) eating non-regulation crisps (shocker!) and talking about girls (scandal!).

“Nah – she’s just pissed-off coz you made her feel sexy.”


“Out-of-control or something. I dunno.”

I consider this for a moment. “For a big lanky tosser you’re quite clever, aren’t you?”

“I’m big, baby, yeah.”

“In your dreams, matey.” I grin and bat at the proffered elbow.

“Come on – bell.” Thompson jumps athletically to the ground. I follow more slowly to avoid ungainliness. Unsuccessfully. “Come on loser poet-type, let’s kill us an English teacher.”

“Fucking hell – torture time already?”

“You asked for it. Oh, well – the other...” sudden chagrin. “You didn’t ask for that.”

“Let’s go.” We head for the dodgy side entrance we’re not supposed to use (or probably know about, being lowly uniform-types) that leads to the older part of the building and my date with Nemesis. “Hey – “ I grin, “we can at least go down singing!”

Arm-in-arm we stride down the rapidly-emptying corridors, bellowing The School Song, arr. Jones 4.

* * *

Mrs. Archer is a tardy woman. The sun rises in the east, hailstorms strike during field hockey, uniform socks itch and Archer is late.

Today must have had meteorologists and sock manufacturers everywhere baffled because – as fits this day – Archer is on time. In fact, Archer must have been early because everything’s settled and they’re all more or less watching the door as we come in. Some presentiment of doom at least had us walk in fairly neatly, rather than continue our goose-step.



Williams.” The sound has shark’s teeth in it.

“Mrs. Archer.” Fuck being cowed. That’s for people who’ve done something wrong.

She gestures to the two remaining seats in the small classroom. Nowhere near each other. The desks are modern, something I’ve never figured in this part of the building. Tessalatable, smooth melamine blobs. You can’t change them, mark them, imbue them with any personality. They’re arranged in a bizarre geometrical shape that means we all face each other. Or Archer, at the head of the table, weight placed lightly on her fingertips on the teacher’s desk, smiling humourlessly.

We sit. Thompson untidily cramming long, skinny legs and arms between the bulky thighs and upper arms to either side, scrambling for bag and paper. I try to sit neatly, try to keep the rage from making me look sweaty.

“There’s no need for that, Thompson,” says Archer sweetly. “No pens and paper for the moment – we’re going to have a debate.”


“But first – homework returned.”

Oh, even fucking better.

One by one they find their owners. Small, pertinent comments follow each book’s return. Alphabetical order. Bet that took her some time. I’m finding refuge in childish insults because I know what’s coming next. I look up and opposite me, colour high and jaw determined, hair pulled neat and necklace discreet, so not looking at me it’s like she’s staring is Jennifer. She’s looking well. I look at her coolly for a while then decide that peripheral vision is quite good enough for the likes of me. I can feel the anger, pull it in like something elastic. It only goes off where and when I want it. In the meantime, I develop a fascination with my fingernails.

“And Williams.” The book fails to flop in front of me on the desk and stays in her grasp.

“Thank you, Mrs. Archer.”

The teeth grit only slightly. “Interesting piece of work, wouldn’t you say?” Flap, flap, goes the exercise book.

“Is that a literal or rhetorical question?” I ask, smooth as I dare.

“Shouldn’t it be obvious?”

“It isn’t always obvious, and I didn’t want to be accused of dumb insolence or arrogance unduly.” A few gasps around me. Damn – I’m slipping already. It shouldn’t be playing like this.

“Let’s see – “ she looks around the class, “I asked you all to write a piece, in whatever medium you felt most comfortable, to reflect the call for relevant debate in this arena. As I recall, it went something like: ‘Why don’t we ever write about real-life stuff?’” She imitates a sulky adolescent whine. Good job we all know who it’s meant to be, or she’d be winning no prizes for mimicry. “Isn’t that right?“ she barks suddenly, leaning towards me.

“I hope so,” I say cheerfully, “because that’s what I tried to write about.”

“Yes. I’m glad you managed that part of the remit. You even managed to write it in English...!”

Cheap shot which nevertheless gets the toadies tittering. I once went all experimental and wrote something a bit Clockwork Orange. It fell down badly. Marks for initiative and creative effort don’t get handed out in this class, which was all the piece would have garnered, even from a sane teacher.

“However, I do find I have to wonder at the... tone... of this piece. The setting is recognisable enough, but the content? Fantasy? Wish fulfilment? Whatever happened to realism, Williams?”

“I think I was trying to reflect...”

“Something back-to-front, no doubt.” Ooh – cutting irony, fabulous word-play. Pity it’s over most people’s heads. “Something I don’t feel quite fits in with the setting. Let’s see...” Pause for dramatic effect. Twat. “The setting – a secondary school, much as this one. The chief protagonist, a pupil... of course,” she sneers. Oh deary me, I’m so blatant, tut tut. “The chief villain, a teacher. Oh dear. But the situation; so totalitarian, so charged with intellectual revolution, strong-minded individuals poised to seize freedom, their interactions steeped in... eroticism?” Sniggers from the floor, but she’s floored herself – more embarrassed than she thought she’d be.

I look at her levelly. She’s inviting me to react or comment – I think I’m supposed to protest – but since she hasn’t asked a question, I don’t need to move. Good trick, huh?”

“Well, Williams?”

“That certainly encapsulates my essay relatively efficiently.”


“But what, Mrs. Archer?” A pure innocent tone, eyes wide but not too wide – no sarcasm...

Back up, try a different route. More direct. “Would you say it was particularly realistic?”


“How can you justify your...? You claim wild spurious c-claims of intellectual and emotional brutality and sexual misdemeanours...” Ah! Hesitation and repetition. Over to Williams.

“My experiences would lead me to portray school life in such a way – I am merely writing about what I know...”

“But to...”

“In a perhaps dramatised format in order to fulfil the remit of ‘creative writing.’”

A hit, a very palpable hit. Bitch. Post-modern, dontcha know?

Oh, she’s pissed-off now. What grates between us is not that I’m bad at English...

Withdrawal. Find another new route.

She smiles. Oh shit... “Let’s take a particular passage...” She turns pages ostentatiously and my face heats – I know where she’s headed all right.


“‘Why?’ Williams?” She’s got me running now.

“Yes, why – are you going to subject the other pupils’ work to such detailed public scrutiny?”

“Define ‘example,’ Williams.”

“Why my work?” I continue, ignoring the order. “Because it’s bad, or because it’s good?”

“Well,” she begins, surprised.

“Because if it’s bad then there’s no need to read it out loud – it educates no-one. If it’s good then there’s no reason to vilify it beforehand. If it’s the plot or the tone that bothers you, a specific example won’t portray that accurately – you’d have to read the whole thing. A point taken out of context,” I go on, starting to sound – fuck it – slightly pleading, “won’t show the class what you find unsatisfactory about the whole.”

“You’re suggesting I read the whole thing out?”

“That would be a waste of everyone’s time – even though we have got Double English.” Subtle enough?

“I think you’re failing to grasp a very salient point.”

Silence and a polite look from me – I don’t respond if it’s not a question, right?

After an uncomfortable while of no-one playing the game: “The point is that I am the teacher and you are the pupil and my word is the last one on how a class will be taught. Your contribution is not necessary except to be quiet when I am talking and answer a question when I ask it.” She looks hard at me. “Is that understood?” Nearly there.

“Oh yes.” She turns back to the exercise book. I wave my hand airily. “Please continue to demonstrate the fantastical and unreasonable nature of my piece describing dictatorial teaching methods in this classroom debate.” I smile.

Apparently they could hear the shouting two classrooms away and in the sanatorium. Luckily for her she missed my face when she threw the exercise book at me. Everyone considered a single detention extremely reasonable in the circumstances. We did punctuation and grammar exercises for the rest of the long, long lesson.

* * *

“It was incredible, though!” exclaims Thompson. The Goths fail to look impressed. They are the only ones who’ll tolerate us at a dining table today. If it was celebrity status I’d been looking for, I haven’t exactly found it. Mind you, The Goths go through rigorous training and exercise in private on how to not make facial expressions.

Thompson gives up and attacks the rhubarb crumble. “It was, though.” This last in childish fashion.

“Yes, dear, very nice,” I placate back, gazing towards the French windows.

“Come on, tosser – eat up!” Thompson eats (and talks, and walks) rapidly, loudly and slightly messily. It’s all part of that joie de vivre thing. Hey – I managed some French.

“Fuck this,” I say calmly, “I’m going for a walk. Coming?” I stand.

“Food?” Plaintive.

“Packed lunch from now on. God knows what they put in the sauces.”

Everyone within earshot stops and looks down at their plates and bowl. That’s the neat thing – they do it even if they don’t believe me and think I’m a paranoid tosser.

We stroll across to one of the tables by the French windows. It’s full, which is why we didn’t sit there. Probably.

“’Lo, Patel,” says Thompson casually.

“Tosser,” greets Patel.





“Motherf... oh, wait, I appear to have dropped something important!” The eyes of two of Patel’s companions roll back. “I think it may have rolled down here.”

“What,” I say dutifully, “under the table?”

“Yes, it would appear so – help look for it, kind friend Williams.” The voice is muffled somewhere from behind Patel’s socks.

“I’ll crouch down here and help you look for your small but incredibly important personal item, no doubt of an essential medical nature.”

“Hurry the fuck up, will you?” mutters Patel, sideways.

“Fuck you – I’m doing my best,” returns Thompson.

“While I am down here,” I continue, “I will retie my shoelace, which appears to have come undone. What gives?

“Nothing, it’s wedged in sol... aha!”

Creak, draft.

“Ein, zwei, drei,” says Patel.

We’re through, closed, under the bushes and away in the kind of practised motion that argues, well, shitloads of practice, actually. We now owe a favour to Patel, or it’s possible that we’ve just cancelled a debt, actually... but we’ll work that out afterwards.

The important thing, it must be noted, is not that it might have taken just as long to take a more circuitous but less obvious route to the side door we’re not supposed to know about, that it would have taken slightly longer to go the approved route, not even that it was breaking about seven school rules. The point was a combination of all these and getting away with it.

“Where are we off?”

“We’re off,” I say, “to see the wizard.”

* * *

Jones 4 was probably like a druid or something in a previous life. Talk about obsessive – if you want to find Jones 4, head for the trees; the dude will almost certainly be up, in, on against or at least vaguely touching a tree. Rumour has it that a piece of wood constantly resides in the Jones pocket. Rumour is not specific about which one (pocket or tree).

“Greetings, comrades,” says the wise one, dreamily opening grey-green eyes. This is after five minutes of foot-shuffling and Thompson’s assertively-cleared throat. “What brings you here – information, a search for guidance or a cure for sore throats, perhaps?”

Thompson looks at me meaningfully until I remember it’s me. Jones 4 always does that to me – I start thinking about stuff: like trees, and the nature of man’s eternal struggle against oppression, the way we’re all made of the remnants of ancient stars...

“Your friend still seems in dire need of a throat sweet,” observes Jones 4 serenely.

I sit down. “We just wanted to see how you are – what’s going down, etc. Check you out. How you doin’?”

“And boast about our latest act of masterly rebellion.”

“Thompson, you’re so full of finesse.”

“Bite me.”

“You’re safe until you finally wash, you dirty fucker.”


Jones 4 sighs quietly and leans back against the tree, arms folded. We look over and smirk sheepishly. I start.

“You know, like, that essay I wrote?”

“Your manifesto for revolution and loving thy neighbour.”

I nearly blush. “Yeah, well, I did hand it in, and she did freak. The Double English lesson of Death was today.”

“Oh man,” says Thompson. “You have to hear this.”

We tell the tale. Me sort of diffident – I have no idea what Jones 4 will make of it. Thompson waving hands and arms around and really getting off on it. Thompson tells most of it, really, in the end, coz all this fucking enthusiasm has dulled my taste for the whole thing. I’m hoping for a quiet time later when I can sit in the dark and open up my victory, private shining light, warm inside me. Mine. I’m hoping it’ll feel like that – I really am.

Jones 4 is looking at me. I look around.


“And what does it all mean?”

“Victory over the oppressors, and freedom, and screwing the system, and...” Jones 4 holds up a hand and Thompson skids untidily to a halt.

We’re looking at each other, Jones 4 and I, dead in the eye. It’s not a power trip for the druid-type, more like a communication. I take my time. Actually think. I feel serene, I feel...

“Control,” I say steadily, nodding. “I exerted my control over her and it played exactly how I wanted it. Okay, not exactly, but pretty fair.”

“Ah,” says Jones 4.

“Coz,” I go on, “it’s not about the system, but about me – I took the power. And I know it’s only for a moment, in the scheme of things, but I did.”

“Yes,” says Jones 4.

“But,” splutters Thompson: “the revolution, power to the masses, fucking over the system... Man!

“Sorry, mate, but it was a rampant piece of narcissism – I didn’t do it for the cause, I did it for me. For a whole bunch of reasons, it’s true, but there you go...

“I was showing off.”

“Means and end,” pronounces Jones 4. “What do they mean?”

“Fuck-all,” I reply, but with very little anger.

Thompson is totally confused.

“What you did was an act of deliberate, contrived social vandalism. How can that not be revolutionary?”

“Look – in the grand scheme of things, maybe, but I don’t want anyone going ape about my achievements: my goal wasn’t the betterment of my fellow pupil.”

Thompson is now incensed. “That doesn’t make any fucking difference, bonehead – you’ve still furthered the cause. You still showed everyone that you can win an argument. And if you can think and talk for yourself, so can they!”

“Ah,” I sigh, hand to heart: “such idealism!”

“Fuck you!”

Jones blinks to halt the argument. No, really. “In the end, it is all one. You are both correct.”

“I know,” I say sulkily.

“So do I,” says Thompson.

“You just enjoy arguing.”

“Maybe,” we say together. Look at each other, and laugh. Daft.

“Friends that fight together, stay together,” says Jones 4.

I look up, grinning incredulously. “You got that off the inside of a cracker ring or something.”


“It’s hard coming up with new mystical bullshit all the time, isn’t it?”

“True.” We all nod for a bit, mock serious. “But seriously, Williams – you’re going to get into trouble with this need for confession shit. That and your temper.”

“I’ve got it under control.”

“Almost – never underestimate the power of hormones.”

“Jennifer doesn’t,” cracks Thompson. “Didn’t. Oh crap.”

I pull a sour face in the Thompson direction. “Cheers, pal.”


“Ah,” says Jones 4. Which is the best thing to say in the circumstances. The druid rises. “Time to go. Double Welsh, History and Hockey summon me.” We rise too. “Remember,” walking past me a raising a finger alongside a twinkling, misty green eye: “truth and anger are your greatest weapons and sorest weakness.”

“Okay,” I say, sort of deferentially, sort of dubiously. “See you in Hockey.”

“’Bye,” says Thompson.

The magus is gone. Thompson and I wander back, occasionally bowing to each other and saying: “Ah, young Williams, you would be wise to imitate the caution of the fox.” “Ah, young Thompson, be careful that none compare thee to a giraffe in heat,” and other such witticisms. Nowadays we have a limit on our Jones tolerance.

“Is it me,” says Thompson, heading for the form room, “but is that dude heading ever swifter up the sagacious rectum?”

“Maybe,” I return. Then, after a pause for mirth: “But it does still make sense, though.”


In the afternoon our paths diverge. Me to Classics, Thompson to Music. Then free period which I will spend in the library and Thompson in a private oboe lesson, still in the Music Department, then reunited for Hockey. A blissful way to end a Monday: sweaty, breathless and potentially fatally wounded.

“At least you have time to change,” grumbles Thompson. “I have to peg it from oboe, and I can never persuade the old minger to finish on time, let along slightly early so I can change and not get the crap kicked out of me verbally. And I have to make sure the oboe’s safe – don’t want a repeat of the Treasure Hunt incident. ‘Your parents pay for 35 minutes of my time,’” she whines in a savagely accurate caricature of the oboe teacher, whose name I have never learned: That Old Bitch is my reference point. “‘And that is what they shall have – no-one can accuse me of cheating my pupils or their parents.’” A bilious reference to some event in the Department’s long and frankly irrelevant past.

“‘How much did that whistle cost, then, Thompson?’” Suddenly Crawford’s unlovely voice is coming out of Thompson’s face. I shudder. No matter how many times I witness this, there’s some impressions I really can’t get used to. “‘Hope it wasn’t too much, hate to see you get into trouble... hunh, hunh, hunh...’ Wow,” the normal voice, thank fuck. “All those words inside one minute, and some with two whole syllables!” I give that hapless sideways smile that’s supposed to be conciliatory. It was two years ago and it still makes Thompson’s blood boil. Mostly, not, but I guess today’s not been a perfect day for Thompson, either.

We troop in for afternoon registration: they have to check in case we’ve fucked off to the Rocks for the day, or something – officious bastards. Off to our separate worlds of culture.

* * *

I like Classics – I actually made a good choice there – and I won’t hear a word said against Miss Fletcher. She may look a lot like a badger, and smell a bit like one as well, but she’s very cool, and there’s nothing she doesn’t know about Greek mythology. Either that or she’s very good at making it up. Sometimes, when we’re all bored breathless by Roman domestic details, she’ll sigh, put the book down and say: “Sod this for a game of soldiers: who wrote this bloody curriculum anyway?” She’ll smile at us and we’ll know we’ve got five minutes to indulge brain rest. Either that or she’ll embark on some frankly unlikely tale of her time in University. I really want to go to University, do some ancient and useless topic and have a great time exploring the limits of youthful imagination and a Government loan. Look – it’s a double lesson, we get some time off in the middle for good behaviour. Miss Fletcher deserves some downtime too.

Today she looks like a badger that’s just been in a fight or shagged its way through three setts of unwilling other badgers. Something to do with the edgy promise of the incipient Spring, maybe. I love March (okay, it’s still February – but what I mean is that you can feel March coming...). She strides in all old-fashioned clothing and magnificently awry shaggy-cropped hair. There’s only four of us, so we all have to sit in the front row – no hiding. She greet us all and flings her brown leather case (one of those old-fashioned dome-shaped open-at-the-top clasped things) towards the teacher’s desk. Before turning to the blackboard (yes, we still have blackboards) she fixes me with a particularly intense look from under that fringe and the bushy grey eyebrows. It takes me a while to fit all the elements of the look together while she’s writing on the blackboard: the topic today (and for the rest of the term). Appraisal, humour, wariness and a healthy “I’m watching” vibe: don’t fuck up.

WARFARE has been scrawled on the board. I look at the tousled mop supervising digging through the strata of the case and conclude that I was one of the topics in the staffroom at lunchtime. Oh boy. The rest of the Classics class have said nothing to me, which is not in itself unusual. This time, however, they are very definitely Not Talking to me. The mad egotist part of me hopes it’s fear and awe, rather than disgust and contempt. I’m probably going to have to conclude confusion, though...

See, a whole load of them aren’t going to get it. They’ll have no clue why I’m not down about the detention, why Thompson is bragging about it, why it’s a victory. The thing is: I got to write what I wanted and didn’t get punished for it – screw the detention, what I didn’t get was her reading out particular bits and presenting me to scorn, contempt and physical brutality from some of the simpler elements of our Big Happy Family. Key parts of the essay theoretically confirm certain rumours and well-known secrets about me. No-one truly concerned is going to talk, but there’s plenty of (as yet) unsubstantiated filth circulating about myself and some good friends of mine. The teachers know about me for sure, now, or at least Archer does – don’t know if she had the generosity to share with the other screws (sorry). What was almost certainly made clear (apart from the stuff that would get me a kicking) were a couple of hitherto unknown (or, rather, unconfirmed) factors that would make her white-hot with rage. She can’t have failed to pick up on the implications. You see...

“... so where’s the other one?”

I blink. “Sorry, Miss Fletcher?”

“She’s in your form, and apparently she’s due to be in this lesson. Have you seen her?”

I look around stupidly: no, four as usual, and all from other forms. I blink some more and look at Miss Fletcher again. Light dawns over Ayres Rock.

“Oh, oh yeah – she was at registration. Sorry, I don’t know where she is now.”

“Hmm,” says Miss Fletcher wryly, and has just made the decision to carry on regardless when the door opens and a flushed and breathless Laura Castle lights up the already sun-spangled classroom. Sun has broken through the clouds but has not yet reached the annoying position in this classroom where it blinds my left eye. My vision is clear, and she’s still a vision.

“I’m so sorry,” she gasps, and I’m right – it is a nice voice, if a bit ragged now. “I got really lost – it’s still all new...”

“And doubtless will remain so for several weeks at least,” interrupts Miss Fletcher. “Why didn’t you ask Williams where this room was? You’re in the same form.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that, um, that Williams had...”

“Assertiveness lacking somewhat. Not what I would have suspected...” and she fixes Laura Castle with pretty much the same look she bestowed on me earlier. This gets more interesting, I think, delighted, light-dazzled and happily confused.

“Sit there,” says Miss Fletcher. “Have a textbook and, oh, well – I can throw some lined paper at you. Will that do for the moment? I’ll bring a properly-coloured exercise book for Thursday.” Humour colours Miss Fletcher’s voice – she’s not one for bureaucracy. I told you she was cool. She’s also put Laura Castle next to me, which is kind of distracting because I won’t be able to steal glances at her from a distance and she’ll inevitably, oh, I dunno – look at me or something, and I’ll lose consciousness.

Seriously – this girl is lovely.

It turns out she knows fuck-all about Classical Warfare, but that’s cool, coz we’re quite shaky – it’s a new topic (mostly). She really knows absolutely nads about it, though. Worse than Skinner, who could probably care less about Classics but is trying to avoid all forms of Science. And Humanities.

I can sympathise about Humanities. I tried in vain to point out that Classics was like History, but they forced me to take Geography, saying that Classics is like Art or Music. Bastards. Skinner’s doing Art, so has that cornered. It also helps having your father on the Board of Governors.

After buckling down for over an hour of dates with only the promise of gruesome depictions of battle in future lessons and a bizarre anecdote about Miss Fletcher’s experience of the practical application of catapults (like big, massive siege-engine type things) to sustain us, we eject ourselves into the chaos of between-classes with sighs of relief. Miss Fletcher stays behind for 3X’s Comparative Religion: “I drew the short straw for my secondary, more ‘curricularly applicable’ subject. Transferable skills, indeed...”

“Where are you going now?” asks the delicious Laura, shy and lowered-gaze.

“Erm, library. Free period. Helping with books. You know – “ I wave my arms incoherently. Good grief – the verbal warrior of Double English has done a runner, leaving me with Crawford’s gob. “Er, you?”

“German.” She pauses, face contorted with mock consternation at her own stupidity. “I think. Hold on.” She digs through her bag. I watch the line of her parting, the fall of her bright hair, the healthy pinkness of her scalp. Oh dear.

“German! C3. Wherever that is.”

“I’ll show you – coz I’m free.” Help.

“Erm, thanks.” We set off.

Shit, fuck, shit. Brain to mouth – come in mouth. Sorry sir – we’re got nothing but static. We’ve lost the link. Arse.


“Oh – sorry.” Muttering again. I hug my bag self-consciously.

“So,” she cocks an eyebrow, “I’m not the only person who’ll be talking to myself around here, then.”

“Yeah,” I grin. Silence. Footsteps.

“Where are we going – what is C3 anyway?”

“Modern block – back where we had French and registration? Top floor – so C. Third room, so 3.”

“Okay.” Is she laughing at me or with me? Feebleness, Williams – either be serious or make good jokes, moron.

“So, are you as good at German as, er, aha, French?” Don’t think it; focus, focus.

“Actually, no – not my best. I’m much, much better at French.” Okay, my brain’s on holiday; throwing its hands up and marching off with its bags packed. My groin is on fire. Hormones. Pretty girls saying potentially bad things. Oh God.

“Are you all right?” You look a bit...”


“... red.”

“I’m,” throat cleared, octave lowered, “I’m fine.” Swallow. “Really. A bit warm. Too much exercise.” I run up a few stairs comically in demonstration.

“Okay.” She really is laughing at me now. Oh well.

We reach the tiny landing at the top of the Modern Block stairs. Time to depart.

“This is you,” I say. I feel steadier now. Must be the exercise.

“Cool. Erm, look,” she looks down, “thanks for showing me – I’m probably going to be a real pain for a bit. Totally ignorant.”

“No problem.”

“Really,” she lays her hand on mine for a second, looks up. “Thanks.” Then she’s gone into the classroom and I’m down the stairs, or probably I am, because I’ve got all the way along the corridor and past the gym, heading back to the Old Block and the Library before I realise where I am. I’m in a really pleasant reverie all along the Long Corridor, up past the staffroom, past 3X’s Comparative Religion and into the oldest part of the building, The Atrium. A connection. There’s a real connection there. Eye-to-eye. This is like unreal stuff – big time soul contact shit, not random lust or loneliness or whatever. Wow.

Shit – need to get my games kit so I can change well before hockey and spend as much time in the company of friendly books as possible. Avoid elbow-jostling, bad foot-smelling, cramped and hurried public changing in the locker room with other scum. The Monday afternoon plan goes: dump bag in locker, grab kit, go to Library, revel in books, change in library toilet (it’s a big library), dump kit in locker/leave in Library secretary’s cubbyhole (she’s a dude) and be out on pitch not late and not kicked about before lesson.

Maximum avoidance of pain, maximum book time, maximum Being Different smugness.

But only if I don’t drift in the wrong direction on a cloud of hormones. Damn – this is eating into my book time. I march back down to the Long Corridor, past the gym, into the locker room, go to the locker, open it, take out kit bag, including hockey stick, put in book bag, get door slammed on left hand.

Hold on – what?

Spun round by right shoulder and back slammed into accompanying locker. Definitely not to plan. But then, I forgot Burgess also had a free period. Common sense insists I can’t possibly have been tailed since Classics. Healthy paranoia adds Skinner and Burgess together and makes three – the third part of the Unholy Trinity there, alas, only in spirit.

“Having fun, Williams?”

“No – just collecting my stuff.”

Stuff.” They snicker. Colour me humourless, or whatever, but why’s that funny?

“You shouldn’t be wandering around, you know.”

“Just on my way to the Library.”

“Yeah – good place for a wank.” Oh, the side-splitters. Gosh, I’m tickled.

“That what you do up there,” whines Skinner now, “have a good wank? Toss yourself off with one of those books? Give that old secretary a good seeing-to?”

“I’m not her type.”

“Yeah – but I bet she’s yours.” Snigger, snigger, fnar.

“An older woman.” Fnaar.

“Lots of experience, know what I mean?” Gestures, smirks, fnaaaar.

“Well, chaps,” I say, moving away from the locker and starting to free my left hand (it doesn’t feel like it’s bleeding), “as ever, it’s been educational fun, but I really have to...”

“Nah,” says Burgess, flexing powerful shoulders to punctuate the syllable with the sound of me slamming into the metal door, “don’t think so.”

“Somehow,” says Skinner. “‘Old bean.’”

If I yell for help, I’m a nonce and I get it later and worse; if I fight back, I get more of a kicking. If I dazzle them with word play, they may decide to try to respond in kind.

Worth a shot.

“Look,” I start.

“Shut up!” says Burgess, pressing me more firmly into the door. Then decides to lift me off by the collar and bang my head against it. Good noise – it’s a thin metal door over an empty space – not that much pain. They’re just playing. Bless.

“I don’t like you, Williams. Shall I tell you why?”

“Enlighten me.”

“You’re mouthy, boring and ugly. You and Thompson and that Jones freak – you think you’re God’s fucking gift. Lame fools, the lot of you. Spend all your time with books, talking bollocks. Like any of it matters. Makes me sick. Weaklings...” slowly, emphatically, brought home with an extra push into the door each time, “losers... freaks.”

“Freaks,” snickers Skinner.

“And yet,” I say, “I still get more than you do.”

“Shut your mouth, bitch, or I’ll slap you one.”

“Ooh, actually you’ve really got me re-addressing my personal code of behaviour. You’re so persuasive, so debonair. Fuck it, I wanna be just like you, Burgess.”

“Fuck off.”

“Or, no – wait, I want to be like Skinner here. So cool. Sidekick-tastic!”

Skinner kicks my ankle. “Fuck off.”

“You get more than me, eh?” says Burgess, leaning dangerously close. “Tell me who, then – someone I’d actually want? I’m not like you, Williams. I’m not a sick, twisted...”

“Prove it.”

“I will.” The bullet head retreats, then my body’s hauled forward and slammed really hard this time. I drop to my haunches, breathing hard. My lungs burn for a second, but not as bad as my abused hand. Skinner’s leaning casually against my locker door. It’s fucking agony. I’ve got no choice.

“There is someone, Burgess.” I’m quiet, murmuring, crouched.

“Who?” I’m hauled up. Louder: “Who?

“Last night – I did it last night. Had it off in the grounds.”

“Where?” breathing fast now – excited, close to victory.

I gasp, lower my head. Shamed, but excited; confiding. “You know that old shed down by the wall?”

“Shit, yeah.” Skinner’s drinking it all in as well. “Go on.”

“There. All night.”

“Who, Williams, who?” Burgess grips my chin and pulls my head up. We go eye to eye. Full-on contact.

“Your mother. She was great.” I lick my lips and grin. Burgess roars and lifts seal-clubbing fists.

“Wait! Wait, wait!” I put my hands up, the left freed by Skinner’s shock. “I’m sorry – I lied.”

The fists lower slightly.

“She was shit – a really rough shag. But she said I was better than you.”

Burgess’ shrieking roar echoes metallically off the lockers and whitewashed walls. I dodge the first head-blow, which clangs off the locker like a gong. Not so the second.

You’d think my solar plexus would be used to this kind of treatment by now, but apparently not. While I’m down, Skinner gets me in the kidneys and the back of one knee and Burgess rears back and launches for a kick to the stomach with a massive warcry (more of a scream) of adrenaline and rage.

“What in Hell’s name do you think you’re playing at?!”

“Williams fell against the locker – tripped over the kit or something and we were just...”

“Rubbish – you’ve attempted to kick the living... well... anyway. You and Skinner report to the Head right now – I will be thirty seconds behind you, believe you me. You and you, get Williams under the arms and get to the san...”

“No need,” I croak.


“I’m fine – I’ve had worse.”

“I’ve no doubt,” says Mrs. Hampton crisply, “but you need to get that head seen to.”

“It’s not bleeding.”

“It’s that stubbornness that got you into this in the first place, I’ll be bound. Fine, Napoleon, but go and sit down, or something, and wash your face.

“Back to the gym, 2Y. Nothing more to see. Tell Evans I’ll be back shortly and to keep going.”

I’ve never been so pleased to see a sports teacher in all my life, and doubtless never will be again. I flap my tiny second-form erstwhile helpers away and stagger to my feet. I stumble into a toilet cubicle and sag for a full three minutes. When all the nosy feet have trooped away I stagger out again and wash my face and tender hand. Luckily Mrs. Hampton didn’t see that. I limp over to the mirror. Great, I’m going to have a killer bruise on one cheekbone where I crashed to the floor, hands to my stomach. Motherfuckers. Whatever price the Head makes them pay it won’t be enough. Skinner’s name alone will probably see to that. Never mind the pain, they destroyed my lovely book time. Well, okay, I do mind the pain because when the adrenaline’s worn off it’ll become fucking murder. Just in time for Hockey.

Oh well, better change now while I can still bend, then.

* * *

I emerge stiffly just as the rest of the class start to clatter into the locker room. Changing was more of a bitch than I’d anticipated – I elected to try it in the cubicle, in case any more of my little buddies decided to drop in while I was alone and with my pants down. As it were.

Eyes are wide and noise levels fluctuate dramatically around me – dropping to near-silence closer to, rising unnaturally everywhere else. I’m caj – sauntering crookedly to my locker, dropping the bag of clothes in, hoisting the stick. People nearby flinch at the gesture before they can prevent themselves. I get a lot of room walking out, for which I’m incredibly grateful. I try to look like it’s my due.

Patel looks at me – gets the eye contact as I pass. “Burgess?” I nod. “Fucker.” I nod again. The dark great liquid eyes gaze full on for a moment. Communicating. I move on. I move back. Suspicion: “How did you know it was Burgess, not – “

“Crawford was in my class the whole time, man – I guessed.” I nod once more and head out again.

I don’t want to think about the alternative – that Patel had heard a plot and not warned me. We’re not tight, but allies – the enemy of my enemy, kind of thing. Unsaid: if Crawford et al ever go down, Patel and that posse want to be there.

I stalk out, face tight, turn left for the outside. Swept by just as I turn, a wide hazel eye and look of alarm and concern, but Laura Castle is pushed into the locker room and I’m outside. Heading for Hockey.

Hockey’s a great game. Wait – I’m lying. It’s violent, swift and brutal. Kind of like football (off-side rules, player positions, goal-scoring, dribbling and shooting, etc.) only with sticks. And anyone who heads that ball is looking for horrible concussion (ever catch a cricket ball on the shin? Like that). Football’s a piece of piss – at least you can see the ball coming. For hockey they arm your opponents (in my case, everyone else) with two-foot-long, heavy wooden sticks. It’s also traditional to play it in freezing temperatures. What is it about the British and brutal outdoor sports during the worst weather of the year? We play all the gentle, civilised, non-armed games during the summer. Okay, they give people javelins and that for athletics, but at least they don’t expect you to run around on a pitch with 21 other people all javelinned-up and jostling for a go at smacking a shot-putt about.

I think I’ve said my piece now.

Synopsis of lesson: I limp everywhere, fail to score, avoid being tripped up by any of the Keen Brigade (all those sporty bastards look the same to me), and annoy the teacher by still (after all this time) not knowing where I’m supposed to go or what I’m supposed to do. Luckily I don’t feel the cold coz I’m so fucking angry and after a short while everyone (from both teams) avoids me anyway, so I just get to dodge vaguely up and down the side bit and pretend I’m covering the flank. Or something. The teacher gives up (maybe Mrs. Hampton stopped by the staffroom), and pretends to be fooled by my pretence. Downside: I never get a chance to talk to Thompson. Jones 4 is mysteriously missing too.

That crazy oboist is a full 15 minutes late (it’s only a single lesson anyway) by the time the instrument is safely stored and kit donned. Thompson absorbs the shouting and sarcasm – one look at my facial expression and it’s clear beaucoup bad shit is afoot. What’s another shouting hockey teacher compared with that?

Bell goes. End of school. Thank merciful fuck. There are 3 day pupils in our class – they run on ahead so they can get home. Lucky bastards. Hot baths and parents and TV and shit. They probably think we’re lucky – it’s all like one big camp-out, sleepover adventure; getting away from the folks. Everyone’s fucked-up – we all want what we can’t have.

Thompson is alongside me, shoulder to, well, to nearly my head, but you know what I mean. We say nothing, just walk on in – not fast, not slow. Time for talking later. Thompson’s seen some of the physical damage now, and the long, thin face is grim and tight, a muscle working in the jaw.

Back in the changing room. No-one’s looking but everyone looks. My back’s probably starting to get pretty spectacular. My hand’s almost completely useless by now – have you ever tried changing one-handed? Fucking nightmare. Eventually finish, retrieve my stuff, bang the locker closed. Everyone’s finished and gone and Thompson’s waiting for me, eyes grave, still saying nothing. As we head towards the door, someone else comes flying in. Laura Castle. Hair flowing, eyes wide with concern, she looks around and comes for me. Thompson takes an involuntary step to the side. She comes right up to me, peering at my face, reaching for my hands.

“My God – I did see that earlier. What happened?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Don’t try to be all hard on me – you’re hurt, what happened?” Shy Laura?

“Listen, Castle, it’s nothing – it happens, I’ll sort it.”

She shakes her head. Her hair’s coming down from the ponytail for games and she releases it impatiently. “Don’t call me that – I just can’t get used to it!”

“Laura, then. Please, don’t worry. Ah!“ She’s taken my hands in hers and the fucked-up one is murder.

“Oh God, I’m sorry.” Now fierce again: “Who did this?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It bloody does – they can’t just do that and get away with it. That’s what all this whispering everyone is doing means, doesn’t it? – you can’t name them because it’s someone you can’t grass up, someone who’ll get away with it.”

Pretty and perceptive. A deadly combination.

“What are you going to do if I tell you, huh? Go look at them sternly?”

“Bastard.” She’s really pissed-off. “I’ll help you do whatever it is you’ve got planned or are going to plan. I’ve heard about you – I know you can carry it off.”

Double English travels fast.

Thompson steps up: “She’s cool. Come on.”

I smile. Like I ever thought she wasn’t cool.

“Listen, Laura – come with us now, we’ll try to explain the school layout to you. Guided tour, like. Ins and outs.”


“That kind of thing.”

“Cool. Thanks, W– oh, look – I can’t call you Williams.”

“It’s my name.” I’m being a bit smug now.

“I don’t call friends by their surnames. This school’s, like, stuck in a timewarp or something.”


“Hey – no wriggling. You know my name, now what’s yours?”

I look at her for a moment. “I hate my first name,” I say softly, looking down.

“Never mind, she says, softer still, ducking down to look up at me dead in the eye.

I smile. This day’s finally getting better after all. “It’s Nicola.”

Thompson steps up again: “Angela.”

“That’s very...”


“Well, it’s certainly not you. Maybe I’ll stick to Thompson.”

“Most people do.”

“And don’t call me Nicola, for heaven’s sake,” I plead. “If it has to be the first name, call me Nick or somethin’.”

“Okay.” We all look at each other for a bit, slightly lost. Laura ties her hair up again. “Right,” she says briskly. “You’d better take me on this tour.”

We usher her towards the door with grand gestures and bows. She responds with a cute curtsey and smiles mock-demurely. We all troop out into the Long Corridor.

“Welcome, I say grandly, “to Heatherstone Grammar School for Girls, founded 1802 by Robert Mercer for the education of clever girls from nice families.

“We hope you enjoy your stay...”

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