She was smiling as though something she had read had pleased her as she handed the papers back to me. I stuttered a thanks, not sure what the girl wanted.
“Hello, Ruby,” she smiled, standing boldly in the rapidly emptying corridor. I fidgeted with the strap of my bag, guessing she had read my name on the sheet.
“I noticed that you’re in all my classes. Since you’re new, I can help you out. Welcome to Slake, by the way. Come on - if you don’t want to be late.”
I followed her slowly like an obedient puppy, stunned that she had been so upfront. She led me through the crowds to a maths room, where I sat down hesitantly next to her at a desk at the very back.
“Um…who are you?” I blurted. I could have phrased it more politely, but she didn’t seem to mind.
“Meena,” she said amiably, as the last stragglers took their seats and a teacher with greying hair came in, dropping his laptop bag on the teacher’s desk and immediately beginning to write on the outdated chalkboard. I noticed that some of the members of the class had turned around to look at me; mostly the girls, who nudged their friends and failed to point discreetly in my direction.
I looked down at the desk, willing myself not to go red, as the teacher noticed the new addition to his class.
He introduced himself to me as Mr Brandon, gave me a textbook and exercise book and told me which chapter they were on, the class staring at me behind his back all the while. To my surprise, he didn’t even acknowledge Meena, although she was sat less than a foot away from me.
She didn’t seem to care, as she was already starting on the set maths work. Mr Brandon wandered back to the front while the class got on with it, although some people continually turned round for another look at me. I let my long hair hide my face from them and started on the questions, which were easy. I had already completed this chapter of the maths course at my old school. Meena was already halfway through, her hand moving at a fast pace across her page. She kept sneaking glances at me out of the corner of her eye, and if I tried this her eyes seemed to glint such a bright blue that I had to look away.
The rest of the day continued in the same fashion. Nobody, even the teachers, seemed to pay any attention to Meena, but introduced themselves to me and gave me books to cover their subject. None of the other students came over to talk to me like Meena had, but some smiled at me in a friendly way. It seemed that Meena had no other friends, if I counted myself as her friend, because neither did I.
When the bell rang for the lunch hour at the end of a gruelling Physics lesson, Meena gave me directions to the canteen and said she had to speak with a teacher about important coursework. Before I could say anything, she had vanished from the classroom. I made my way to the canteen alone, and reluctantly grabbed a blue plastic tray from the pile. I picked out an apple and a bottle of water, too edgy to be particularly hungry, and paid at the end of the queue. Finally, I took a deep breath and looked around. The worst part - finding somewhere to sit. This school had individual tables, and each clique had already claimed one for themselves. There were a few empty seats, but I didn’t have the guts to simply go and sit at one. I wished that Meena could have come with me.
As I was wondering where to go, a girl caught hold of my arm.