"Ellie is seventeen, yet she's never had a boyfriend!" said Imogen, speaking as softly as her naturally loud voice would allow her. It was close to 4am in the morning and she had school in a couple of hours, but this was a topic of such importance that she couldn't let it go. After hours of laying wide awake in her bed, she had snatched up her phone and called up her friend Jennifer.
Jenny yawned involuntarily. She had been dreaming of running through a golden field, her hands stretched out, brushing against the barley. There had been no one else with her, yet she did not feel lonely. The warmth of the summer air and blue skies above comforted her, along with the distant bird song. Then the sound of the birds turned into her ring tone and the humming of a nearby bumble bee became her phone vibrating against her pillow.
"I'm sorry, Jen. Am I boring you? Have you got something else you'd rather be doing?" Imogen's tone as prickly as the static on the line. Sleeping, thought Jenny, stretching out in her bed. She opened her mouth to apologise, but Imogen cut her off, surprisingly saying sorry herself.
"You know what I'm like when I can't sleep," she said. "And I feel like an awful friend ringing you at this ung-dly hour, but I'm really worried about Ellie."
Worried. What she really meant was guilty. Both girls knew this, but Jenny did not correct her. Instead she recalled yesterday's events in the canteen.
Ellie had stormed up to the table where they were all sat, her cheeks flushed and strands of her brown hair hanging out of her limp ponytail. She slammed her tray on the table and sat down with a heavy thud on the chair directly opposite Imogen.
Imogen hadn't noticed Ellie's icy glare fixed on her as she was too focused on finding a way of describing just how sexy her boyfriend Ethan looked in his new, tightly fitted jeans to Gretchen, who was sat beside her. She wasn't exactly the most observant person as she had also failed to notice that behind her thick framed glasses, Gretchen's hazel eyes had long since glazed over. Instead of listening to Imogen's rambling, which never seemed to stop, she was going through the equations she needed to know for next week's maths test.
It was only when an alarmed expression suddenly appeared on Gretchen's freckled face that Imogen paused long enough to glance over at Ellie, who was seething.
"Are you okay, Ellz? It looks like something has really ticked you off?" There was genuine concern in Imogen's voice, which only made Ellie angrier.
"I cannot believe you bailed on my piano recital just so you could spend time with your boyfriend. You promised you would go!" Her fingers were clenched tightly around her knife and fork. Imogen looked down at them, briefly wondering if her friend was furious enough to stab her with them, but quickly pushed the thought away.
Surely Ellie was not that annoyed about her not turning up to one in what seemed like a hundred recitals this year. She would eventually forgive her. She looked into her friend's eyes and caught the chill of their frosty blue. Maybe she'll forget about it in a few decades time, Imogen hoped.
Nevertheless she still felt that she needed to defend herself.
"I'm really sorry, more than I can ever say, but you know I haven't seen Ethan in, like, forever!" He had been on trip to the North of England for a couple of weeks as part of his Geography degree and she had missed him dreadfully. For a whole fortnight, her friends had been subjected to emotional rants where she compared her short separation from Ethan to historical star-crossed lovers such as Romeo and Juliet, or Jack and Rose on the Titanic.
"You could have seen him the day after," said Ellie, releasing her grip on her cutlery so that they landed hard on the table's surface with a clatter. She grabbed a handful of chips and began to shovel them into her mouth. She hoped that their greasy deliciousness would console her better than her friend could.
Imogen made little effort to conceal her disgust, Jenny politely averted her eyes and Gretchen stared at her with a kind of curiosity.
"What you looking at, Pigtails?" Ellie eventually said, through a mouthful of food. She threw a chip at Gretchen that hit her square in the face.
"They're not pigtails, they're plaits," replied a disgruntled Gretchen, who had taken off her glasses to clean away the grease that was smeared across the lens.
"You really should learn some table manners," said Imogen. She had already forgotten the earlier spat between her and Ellie, but the latter certainly hadn't.
"And you should learn to keep your promises," retorted Ellie through gritted teeth.
Imogen raised her hands in a defensive gesture. "I texted you to let you know I wouldn't be able to make it."
"Yeah, five minutes before I was set to start."
"Better than no text at all."
That did it. Ellie snatched up the bottle of water she had bought with her meal, quickly unscrewed it and tipped the contents over Imogen's head.