I'm lost. Trapped in the grey spaces between the black of reality and the white of fantasy. Desperately clinging on to one thing, trying to stop it from slipping away, because it's the only thing I know, the only thing that makes sense anymore; I have to find the others.
“And then he said ‘Simple pleasures.’ Simple pleasures? What on earth was that supposed to mean?”
I was lying on my bed on the phone to my best friend, Sarah. “Now that is weird...” she said.
“I messed it up again!” I said miserably.
“Hey, it might not have been that bad!” said Sarah. “Did you manage to giggle a bit less this time?”
I groaned and Sarah started to laugh.
“It’s not funny!” I said. “Why am I so useless when I’m around him?”
We were talking, yet again, about my crush, Dan, who was the most gorgeous guy in our year, the kind of guy that loads of girls fancy and who therefore was never in a million years going to be interested in a quiet, utterly unremarkable girl like me. So when at any point in our English class, where I sat next to him, he would turn away from Layla West, the very pretty and very annoying girl who sat on his other side, and speak to me, I suddenly seemed to lose the ability to put a sentence together and become a babbling, giggling wreck. It didn’t help that he was also the funniest person I had ever met. He really cracked me up. Everything he said made me laugh - way too much.
“Do you think people notice?” I asked. “They, must do, everyone must know I fancy him!”
“Relax,” said Sarah. “No one seems to have noticed. I don’t know how, because it’s pretty obvious, no offence.”
I groaned. “What am I going to do? He must think I’m such an idiot!”
“He doesn’t. You just need to relax. Just wait till he gets to know you... You need to talk to him outside of English lessons.”
“What?” I said, panicked. “You want me to just... just go up to him like ‘Hi, I’m the weirdo you sit next to in English, remember?’”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that exactly...”
“Seriously, I can’t do that!”
“Of course you can. He’s just a guy, Liv.”
“OLIVIA!” came my mum’s voice from downstairs.
“Got to go, dinner’s ready,” I said. “See you tomorrow.”
I went downstairs preoccupied. There was no way I could just go up and start a conversation with Dan. I would just freeze up. And anyway, he was always surrounded by loads of friends, no way was I going up to a group like that and making an idiot of myself... But knowing Sarah, I knew that she wouldn’t be satisfied until I did just that.
I was standing with my parents and my grandparents in a room with slate-grey tiles on the floor and a large wooden table in the centre. I turned around to look out of the window. I could see a sweeping driveway, a neatly trimmed lawn and a gate surrounded by trees. I turned back to the rest of the room and my family were gone. I knew that they would be around somewhere and went to the door to follow them. I came into a hallway with worn carpet and a large staircase, and automatically turned right and through another door.
This led into a long room filled with big paintings, various bits and pieces of my grandparents’ furniture, cabinets, tables and bookshelves places nonsensically next to each other, and various bits of junk. The paint in this room was peeling, there were cobwebs on the ceiling and on some of the furniture, and everything seemed to be gathering dust. I passed a large portrait of my grandparents a bit younger, he in a suit and she in a long expensive-looking dress in a gold frame and my favourite ornament from my grandparents’ house, a statue of a fish with a wide open mouth which I always used to stick my hand into when I was a little girl, giggling, then pull it out quickly, half afraid that the jaws were really going to close around my wrist. The fin was cracked and there were cobwebs over the gaping mouth. My grandma’s favourite vase stood next to my granddad’s old umbrella. I wandered between the rows of mismatched furniture; the dining table which I was always being reminded was a family heirloom next to the coffee table next to the bathroom cabinet. Most things I saw were familiar. Others, like the portrait, weren’t.
I realised I had been walking through this room for a long time and noticed the far door. I opened it to see my grandparents, my parents, and one of my cousins sitting in various seats in a very big living room, facing a massive window looking out onto an overgrown stretch of grass stretching down to a riverbank. I went to the door. It looked windy, the grass swaying like a raging green sea, and the river looked very full, rushing by at quite a pace. I suddenly wanted to go for a closer look. I turned back and said to my mum, who was closest, “I’m going outside.”
“Ok, but don’t go too close to the river,” she said, and turned back to her conversation with her mother. I opened the door and walked out through the long grass towards the river. It was grey and windy out here. I stopped at the bank and looked down at the fastly-flowing water, carrying various twigs and leaves along with it. Shivering, I turned back to go inside, and saw Layla West running towards me in a long bright red coat. I realised she was laughing, and stood where I was in surprise. When she reached me she reached out and shoved me hard in the chest. Arms windmilling, I toppled backwards into cold water. Gasping for breath, I got one last look at her smirking face as she waved and I was dragged under again, carried away by the current.
I overslept the next morning and was still brushing my hair when my other best friend Jo, knocked on my door. I quickly pulled it into my usual up do and ran to the door, shivering in the blast of cold air as I opened it. Winter was approaching and it was just starting to get colder.
“Hey!” she said brightly. “You ready?”
“I’ll just be a few minutes,” I said. Jo stepped into the hall and I rushed around, shoving a few books and my lunch into my bag and deciding I should probably take my coat. I looked at my watch. We should still make it in time.
“So how was English?” Jo asked, nudging my arm and grinning.
I recounted the whole ‘simple pleasures’ story again.
“And you didn’t say anything to prompt that?” she asked, looking confused.
“No, I was just...” Giggling like an idiot. “I don’t know. Now Sarah’s going to try and make me go up and talk to him. I don’t know why she thinks there’s any point.”
“I agree with her you know, you two would make a good couple.”
I smiled, trying to hide just how much I loved to hear that. Then I remembered that my first period was English and started to feel a bit nervous, remembering the amused look he had given me the day before.
It wasn’t until I got into the classroom, noticing that Dan wasn’t there yet but seeing Layla West taking off her bright red coat and draping it round the back of her chair, that my dream came back to me in a sudden rush. I stared at her as I sat down, remembering the rush of anger I had felt and the smug look on her face as she had waved down at me from the riverbank. Layla had never worn a red coat to school before... had she? It was such a bright colour that I thought I would remember.
Layla glanced in my direction and caught me looking at her coat. “What?” she snapped.
“Nothing,” I said, looking down and getting my things out of my bag. Mrs McKenzie arrived then, and Dan slipped in just after. He didn’t say anything to me, spending the whole time we were meant to be working talking to Layla.
“I dreamed that Layla West pushed me into a river,” I told Sarah and Jo at break. Jo burst out laughing.
“That’s random,” said Sarah.
“But...” I hesitated. It sounded so ridiculous. “Have you ever seen her wearing that red coat before?”
“No, I don’t think so...” said Jo, looking at me confused.
“Well I haven’t either but she was wearing it in my dream,” I said.
“So what are you saying?” said Sarah. “That it’s going to come true and Layla West is really going to push you into a river?”
Jo advanced on me dramatically doing jazz hands before pretending to push me and all three of us descended into giggles. Layla West was part of the drama lot, popular, always the centre of attention and starring in every school production. She, Courtney and Hollie made up a threesome we liked to call ‘the jazz hands trio.’
“I’d like to see her try!” I said.
Layla West was not my favourite girl in the school. She and her friends went round as though they were superior to everyone else. They seemed to look down on Sarah, Jo and I as not worth bothering with. I’d never forget the time I was put in Layla’s group for a project in Textiles. I’d never had anyone speak to me so patronisingly. And on top of that, Layla had the most annoying, posh, high-pitched voice I’d ever heard, and she asked a lot of really stupid questions in class, which really grated on my nerves. Unfortunately though, Dan was also very good at Drama and popular with absolutely everyone, including the jazz hands trio.
“It’s a bit freaky though, don’t you think?” I asked.
“She must have worn the coat last year and your subconscious remembered it even though you don’t,” said Sarah
“Yeah. What a weird thing for my subconscious to remember!”