Shani was fine at lunch time. She was great, bright and cheerful as ever, scarcely subdued. She had reapplied her ruined make-up and re-pinned her hair; I felt heavy-eyed and frankly exhausted.
“Are you okay now?” I said in a scratchy voice.
“Fine,” she replied. She didn’t ask about me. “I was fine after a few minutes in the toilets.”
I felt the acid of emotion tingle in my cheeks, as if I was about to either cry or retch.
“Someone asked me if you’d been crying,” she said with a slight giggle, and I heard the headteacher’s soft voice echoing in my psyche: “Today is a quiet day.”
“There had been a rumour but I said no, of course you weren’t,” Shani said.
“Well, I’ve never seen you cry before. You didn’t know Alisha Carson.”
“Nor did you.”
“I’m a girl.”
“Oh, Den, don’t let’s argue,” she pleaded, and I agreed.
“Okay,” I said. “But I was crying.”
“You were?” She was astonished.
“Yes, I was,” I said, feeling strangled by the bitter noose of betrayal. What right had she to suppose she knew me well enough that I wasn’t crying my eyes out over a girl who’d just died so suddenly and maybe I’d seen her just a week ago all happy and well and everything and I felt so sick and I was so sick and tired and sad and I just wanted to be myself. Just for once I wanted to be me and she wasn’t letting me because she didn’t think I was one likely to be crying. And she actually said that to someone else? Dared she how? Why did she do this to me? Don’t do it, Shani. Just let me alone. I have nothing you want.
“I just want your approval, Den,” she whispered as if reading my thoughts.
“Not today,” I begged, “just not today.”
I left her and went to find Alf. He’d probably make a cheering joke, being a quite truly considerate person when he sees teasing won’t do any good. If I girl I fancied were here, and she were really upset on this day, I knew I wouldn’t be able to help myself to make a move. Why couldn’t Shani lay it off, just for one day? Couldn’t she be serious for one sad day? I only saw her solemn once; that day in the girls’ toilets way back in September. But she soon pasted her mask of make-up back on. The real Shani was soon lost to me.
“Not today, don’t do this to me,” I muttered as I stepped back into the dark of the corridor towards the locker room.