The next day I fled the house ASAP and before my brain had even started the shift into first gear I found myself in school. Consequently the first hour of bleary-eyed tedium passed straight over my head, which I did not at all consider a bad thing. It just so happened that chemistry has a soporific effect and it also happened that I wanted to catch up on some shut-eye at the back of the class. Sleep was just the natural option. Besides, with this approach the lessons passed at least twice as fast and I learned just about as much as I would have anyway.
I experienced an intense sensation of déjà vu as a gentle hand shook me awake. For a moment I was back on the bus with Elena and wondering why my head appeared to be on a desk.
It crossed my mind that that was not Elena’s voice. I sat up and looked into a pair of cool blue eyes. It took just a moment to register where I was, enough time to get a little irritated from being woken. I scrutinised the girl who stood before me. She was dark blonde. Or mousey. Or some other indeterminate colour in between brown and blonde. Her hair was neat, shoulder-length and straight. Very regulation. She was dressed in an unassuming pair of jeans and a turtleneck. All in all she looked smart and quiet.
“Thanks for waking me I guess.” My voice was gravelly with fatigue. “I’m Suki. And that’s not short for anything and there’s no ‘e’ on it.”
I had snapped and I knew it but I was too tired to really care. I got my stuff and packed up to leave. The rest of the class had already gone.
“Oh. Well I’m Melanie. Umm…”
I stalked past her out of the classroom feeling thoroughly irked without any real reason; after all she had probably done me a favour by actually waking me in time to go to the next lesson. I was just too tired to expend any energy with niceties. She caught up with me and produced a map of the campus.
“Um, Suki? I could use some help actually I’m new so could you help me find this room here?” She indicated her timetable and looked at me with a hint of pleading. Now I felt really bad. Normally I wouldn’t have really minded if I was a bit tetchy with someone I didn’t know. They could handle it and I wouldn’t be bothered if they decided they didn’t like me. But I couldn’t bully a newbie. It just didn’t seem… fair.
I huffed a little as I took the map from her.
“Okay so you’re looking for… biology and that will be this one here.” My finger speared through the roof of the appropriate building on the map. Glancing at her timetable I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of science.
“Wow, what are you planning to do with those subjects?”
She fixed me with a confident, even slightly proud look and said without a hint of hesitation, “I’ll go into the medical profession.” I was utterly dumbfounded and stared at her for a moment. This mild-mannered quiet little girl wanted to be a medic? I couldn’t imagine it, and all I could think of to say was “good luck with that.” The awkward silence dragged on a bit before I broke. “Yeah, I should probably get off to my next lesson. I’ve got English so I guess I’ll be seeing you.”
As we parted ways I still wondered at her choice of career path. Even so a small voice just at the fringes of my consciousness piped up ‘at least she has a career path.’ I quelled my thoughts and headed off, soon forgetting the girl from Chemistry.
* * *
Elena bounced up alongside me as I walked. She had a big smile on her face which quickly turned to stifled laughter.
“Suki, you’ve got some bed head,” she chuckled.
“That’s… probably just a result of chemistry.” Embarrassed, I fumbled for my hairbrush awkwardly. Elena giggled, a light-hearted fluttering sound that was purely happy. I couldn’t help but smile a little myself too as we stepped into the English block. Honestly, I had missed it. It had a glow that the other building’s lacked, a sense of freedom. The walls here were not decorated with lists of numbers or pictures of men in white coats. Instead the displays showed the drama students’ latest productions, stories and poems written by the lower school complete with illustrations and more professional works by the senior students. Every awkward photo pose, every misplaced apostrophe, every lamentable misspelling, all of it was accepted here. This place breathed creativity, and that is why I loved it. There was no one here demanding my unconditional compliance with her rules. No mother figure.
We found the room we wanted and waited outside.
“Bet you’re excited aren’t you? Been looking forward to this?” Elena’s question seemed a little enthusiastic for any lesson no matter how much I enjoyed it.
“Well compared to my other subjects this has got to be an improvement,” I replied with a hint of uncertainty in the correctness of my answer.
“I didn’t mean that, Suki, I meant your boyfriend is in our class.”
There was a brief, almost comical silence as I looked at Elena as if I hadn’t quite understood what she had said. She sighed as she saw the look on my face.
“You haven’t actually spoken to David recently have you?”
I felt a pang of guilt. It was true. I hadn’t spoken to my boyfriend since a while before school had started. It wasn’t that I didn’t care or didn’t want to speak to him, it had just been one thing after another. Being grounded, lack of credit, Mum putting my phone and laptop into lockdown and so many other things that just got in the way. I started to apologise despite there being nothing to apologise to Elena for but she cut me off and said with a faint, wry smile, “don’t worry about it. I’m sure he’ll understand. And speak of the devil…”
“Hey, I’ve missed you.” A pair of warm comforting arms scooped me up from behind. His voice was deep and soft in my ear. I smiled and tasted his name on my tongue. “David.” I turned to face him and he grinned at me. His chocolate eyes lit up and made me beam straight back at him. He ran his fingers through his ochre curls and said my name in return.A more observant part of me noted how the world pleasantly melted away when he was around but for the most part I was just revelling in seeing him for the first time in weeks.
A low voice brought me back to reality in flawless oxford English.
“Save the romantics for elsewhere Miss Darter, Mr. Heathridge.” The tall yet somehow friendly and docile figure of Dr. Abraham MacPherson, head of the English stepped past me and unlocked the door to our classroom. “Welcome to sixth form English.” The room was very cosy, appropriate for our eight strong class. I sat with David on my right, Elena on my left. Dr. Macpherson straightened his glasses and touched his hand to his head of short white hair as he examined a register sheet. I was pleased to see him behind the desk at the front of the room. He was an excellent teacher and also uncommonly nice for a head of department. Despite his formal title of ‘Dr.’ and the respect he commanded, all the students who he taught referred to him only as Abe. The best part was he didn’t mind a bit.
Going round the class he reached where we sat first.
“Suki, good to have you back with us in the English department. After seeing your other options I was afraid you might be defecting to a more scientific path. Likewise good to see you David. Now, I could separate you two under the grounds of alphabetical seating arrangements, but I see no real reason why I should provided your work is not affected by your… proximity.” His final word was punctuated by a simpering pause and a knowing glance at each of us.
“Thanks Abe,” was our simultaneous response.
Another thing that made Abe a good teacher was his quirky sense of humour. Once you got used to it. He continued around the class, checking names against his register.
Elena Young. His star pupil. Yet again I envied my best friend. Sometimes I wished I had her mind and could produce such genius with such effortlessness. Failing that I could always ask her to do a little of my homework.
Kate Jones and Emily Jackson were in the corner. Members of a more popular clique than I was allowed to associate with, I didn’t know much about them. Their looks were contrasting, Emily with wavy brown hair and blue eyes while Kate was blonde and her eyes were hazel. Both were attractive though, and this had not escaped the notice of some of the boys in the class.
John Adams and Matt Deacon were already checking them out from the other side of the room. They were quite a notorious pair. Suspended briefly last year for a minor alcohol offence, it was rumoured that on a Friday night you could smell the booze and smoke on them from five hundred yards without a breeze. Everything from their baggy jeans and cheap, tacky earrings to their frosted blond hair thick with wax spoke of a stereotype. One which neither had any problem fulfilling, as typical teenage boys. John was the taller, cocky and sneering, Matt his smarter and less outspoken wingman.
The final member of the class was a small, bespectacled Chinese boy. Andy Lee had moved from China over the summer and was new to the school. Abe was finding his thick accent a little difficult to interpret, but it was apparent that his command of the language was surprisingly sound. He seemed reserved yet fiercely intelligent and I guessed he’d be Elena’s main academic competition.
Before long we’d all familiarised with each other, the class was too small to really avoid speaking to any of its members. I’d just stick with the two people next to me and I’d be happy. Once names had been exchanged and introductions made, we got down to work.