The whole of my yeargroup play tennis tournaments on Tuesday afternoons, even in winter. I hate it. I'm not good at sport, and I'm not very fit either. I usually find myself out after my first game, and regulated to sitting at the court fringes, watching or not watching as I please while I freeze to death.
Today I had been sitting there alone for half an hour. Then someone sat down next to me. Deanna Macpherson.
"Hello," she said.
"Hello," I returned. I paused. Would she say anything to me? "Are you out already? You're usually quite good, aren't you?" I felt awkward talking at all. I don't often get to talk to other people. My parents lock themselves away from society and from me, and everyone in the village ignores me as a whole. I usually content myself with writing my thoughts in a diary, which helps me to keep up my conversational skills, or indulging in a kind of silent telepathic sympathy with the cat, a stray who seems to find refuge in my house, goodness knows why.
"I was unlucky to play Lucy Hamilton this early. She always wins the girls' tournament. But then I'm not that good."
I had not really seen her play at all. I only guessed that she is good, because she looks tall and athletic, like Vere, and Vere was good at tennis. Lucy Hamilton is just another girl, like Deanna Macpherson, of course, and I don't know how good she is, so I say nothing.
"My sister has finished knitting a scarf," Deanna Macpherson said proudly.
I wondered what was exciting. Knitting is an entirely unknown field, and, I always thought, for old people, but I said, "That's good. Can you knit?"
The ghost of a smile was on her lips. "No; it's not really the thing for a fourteen-year-old."
I speculated to myself as to whether it was 'the thing' for a nine-year-old.
"What was your sister like?" she queried of me suddenly.
"You'll just go back and tell your friends whatever I tell you," I said angrily. "You'll laugh at me and my sister with them. Why should I tell you? And why are you even talking to me? The most beautiful girl in the school talking to the ugliest boy in history! It's just not on!" I was unable to stop this outburst from pouring out, and I covered my face with my hands, expecting her to go away and never speak to me again. But when I looked up, she was still there.
"Sorry; I didn't realise you were still touchy."
We sat in almost companiable silence for a minute, the wind tugging at our hair, strangely calming.
"I can't remember what she looks like," I owned finally, though it was a lie. 'She looks like you,' I thought, 'exactly like you.' "Dark hair, dark eyes, people say. White skin. She'd be nineteen now."
She nodded. "Nothing like you, then?"
"She was beautiful, I used to think," I said.
"And you still think?"
"I don't know her any more. I haven't forgotten her...I just don't know her. I was only ten. But if I still knew her she'd certainly be beautiful. All the boys would have run after her like mad, if she'd let them. I wish I was better-looking. But we're not all perfect. I'm just born with so many defects, and Vere was born with none. I suppose we must all move on. But it's difficult. It's been the same so long, and nothing is about to change, and I don't want anything to change, either."
She looked disappointed, but sympathetic. I think she realised how depressing this talk is for me. "My sister has brown hair and green eyes, and is quite plain, but she's the most darling thing on earth, and I wouldn't ever swap her. Appearance doesn't matter that much."
This was comforting, but I was not convinced. I knew she was wrong. 'Appearance doesn't matter that much.' Easy for someone as beautiful as her to say, though it's not as if these beauties don't spend ages in front of the mirror checking that they are flawless. But we ugly face, we know better - we spend even longer in front of the mirror!
I could get rid of my slight podginess. That could be fixed by a few visits to the local gym, if I could be bothered to make the commitment.
I didn't realise it at the time, but this was the healthiest thought I'd had in years. I was finally beginning, just slightly, to move on and try to wipe out the past. Of course, unless the village people altered their attitude towards me, nothing would change, but at least I could stop feeling so wretched. Besides, it wasn't for them to change their attitudes, though I didn't realise it at the time. It was for me to change my own attitude, and they would grow to fit mine - if I willed it, I had the power to change my whole life.
And then for the first time in five years, a small laugh bubbled up my throat and out of my mouth. Deanna Macpherson didn't look at me as if I was demented, either. She just opened her own mouth and laughed with me. And boy, it felt good!