Claude was awoken the following morning by the alarm he had reset just before he went to bed, the previous day having been a Sunday.
He lay in bed for a few moments before sitting up and sliding off his bed. He grabbed his school uniform - a deep blue suit composed of blazer and trousers, a white shirt and black socks - and headed for the shower. He was lucky in the way that his sister didn’t wake up until half an hour after him - she always took a shower in the mornings as well and he didn’t fancy the idea of fighting with her over who went first.
After dressing and checking his appearance in the mirror, which included combing his short blonde hair while randomly gazing into his medium brown eyes as though unconsciously trying to fathom himself, he had breakfast - a bowl of cereal as was customary; he then brushed his teeth and had enough time to watch several shows on TV before his mum drove him and his sister to school.
In half an hour Jenny was sitting beside him in the car and she wasn’t saying a word to him. She clearly resented their mother’s rule that no one sat in the front with her if the other sibling was present for the journey.
At school nothing much interesting happened, except that in the morning during registration Claude’s teacher announced that there was a new kid joining the class tomorrow.
“His name is Matt Skye,” Mr Foreman said, “and I expect you all to be friendly towards him. I’m sure all of you remember how nervous you felt on your first day here.”
Claude nodded with all the others but wondered just how friendly Matt would be in return. He couldn’t say he was feeling very optimistic - the result of people’s failure to show him real concern and genuine kindness to this point.
Claude also wondered why Matt was joining now. School had started for the year on the Wednesday before last. There was almost an element of mystery to this new guy's arrival on the ninth day of term.
After school, Jenny had a friend round for tea and so that they could work together on a school project. At first, May seemed a pleasant girl who was a little shy around Claude’s parents - a rather endearing character. But later on, Claude was coming upstairs after having watched a documentary about tigers and he overheard what was probably meant to be a private conversation between the two girls which totally changed his opinion on Jenny’s sweet little friend.
“I think my brother’s gay,” Jenny was whispering.
Claude had frozen. Why was she telling her friend this? Surely it was his thing to tell. And why should her friend be interested in something like that? There was nothing wrong with liking the same gender.
He found himself eavesdropping to find out what Jenny’s friend would say.
“Oh you poor thing,” May said sympathetically. Claude felt as if she had just punched him in the stomach. Poor thing? What?! “It must be so hard for you. Knowing your brother... isn’t like other brothers. Knowing that ... he’s not normal.”
“Yeah, it is a bit,” Jenny confessed. Claude was shocked. She agreed? He had always known that she had problems with him but to call her life difficult was another matter entirely. Claude felt like punching her to see how she liked it.
As he stalked into his room, Claude tried to deal with the revelation. May’s pleasant manner had been a façade and she was really just a judgemental cow. He had to struggle not to slam his bedroom door as he closed it - he didn’t want his sister to see how hurt he was by the comments she and her friend had made. What awful things to hear.
That night Claude had another of his dark and haunting dreams. He was running through a forest of frightening, ebony trees, not knowing quite why but full of fear. Disturbingly there was an undercurrent of excitement to his feelings, as if this sprint away from the unknown danger would achieve something significant - other than saving his life, that is. He remembered the first time he had had a weird dream. There hadn’t been any trees in that one - in fact, his entire vision had comprised blackness, like the night without the stars - but he had felt similar emotions. A voice had whispered to him in a chilling tone, “Run” yet had also instructed him, “Come to me.” So perhaps he was running into danger and the excitement was totally inappropriate (or maybe even induced by a creature which could bend his will).
In the morning he faithfully wrote a recount of his dream on a piece of paper and tucked this into his compartment of secrets before following the usual routine.