I paused in the centre of the room and waited as the boys took up their seats. There were two rows of two desks each, standing in front of the teacher's desk at the wall furthest from where I stood. Mr Pots was standing up and taking out the things he needed for the lesson from a brown leather laptop bag. Don and Teritt sat at the desk on the right hand side as I was looking at things, while Lor sat on his own on the left. The wall on Lor's side was lined with the only windows in the room which faced out onto the lawns in front of the mansion.
"Oh dear, you may have to sit beside Mr Greatmaw." Mr Pots' voice floated towards me and I hastily turned my head to look at him. His tone and smile were rueful. "Unless you'd prefer to sit on the back row?"
I smiled. "I'll sit next to Lor."
"Ah, well, perhaps you'll have a positive effect on him."
I walked over to sit next to Lor who gazed at me with an expression that I thought as meant to be of gratitude but instead conveyed admiration.
On his desk was a fountain pen in its case, to pencils a sharpener, a rubber and a ruler, as well as a green exercise book.
‘Lor Greatmaw, Flora, Mr Pots,' was written on the three rows of dotted lines in the top left corner of the cover. The rest of the cover was filled with drawings of what could only be described as plant monsters. I stared in amazement at the fantastic pictures of giant Venus fly traps with ropes of ivy leaves as tentacles, cacti with scary faces and vicious fangs dripping saliva; a savage willow tree was whipping its lower branches around and a horse chestnut tree appeared to be firing conkers still encased in their spiny shells at a random stick man who was running away.
Lor grinned at me as he caught me looking. The corner of my on mouth twitched up in response.
"So on Wednesday I asked you to prepare speeches on any one of the plants we studied last half term," Mr Pots was saying.
I turned to the front to face him. He was sitting behind his desk, which was on a raised wooden platform. Behind him on the whiteboard was written a mark scheme for ‘Oral Presentation'. The marks were awarded as follows: 1-3 for poor content, 4-6 for average content and 7-9 for good content; 1-3 for weak delivery and 4-6 for strong (and engaging) delivery.
Mr Pots turned his gaze to Lor.
"Lor, would you go first?"
Lor smiled. "Sure."
He rose and took his book with him to stand in front of the platform, a little to Mr Pots' left. He opened his book and looked at the page before regarding the class. Something told me he didn't have a lot prepared but then his expression became serious and he started to give one of the most amazing speeches I'd ever heard.
Yet perhaps that was just because his voice was so wonderful to listen to. It was low-pitched but not too much and with focus it seemed to caress the ear and draw you into the subject he was talking on.
"The elusive Chanson flower is the subject of many great pieces of literature, including Mattie Coarse's ‘Wonder Bells', Sylvie Loup d'Argent's ‘Chanson Magique' and Daniel Preter's ‘The Kiss of a Song'. Admired for its teardrop-shaped petals which are predominantly honey-coloured but framed in dark pink, it is to the Moon Child what the rose is to the human. Like the Penny Plant and the Crystal Orb Tree, the Chanson flower blossoms in winter, showing its petals in moonlight. It is reported that its dark silver leaves pulsate faintly as they absorb the moon rays." Lor's voice dropped to a murmur as he said the last part but his tone was intense and his words were clear and bright as stars.
My heart was lightly pounding in my chest and in my mind I saw the beautiful flower and the silhouette of a young man presenting me with one as a gift...
"In the shadows of caves with natural skylights it produces a sound like rushing water but in the grounds of the mysterious Casa de la Noche, it fills the air with the tinkling of bells- " His voice rose in a slight crescendo, increasing in emotion as well - conveying that he himself, the speaker, was awed by this phenomenon; "in the Meadows of Starlight, it sings the most painfully beautiful melody in the world." His voice changed again, this time to a whisper. "La Chanson Pour le Ciel." And to my utter astonishment, Lor began to recite some of the song.
In a singsong, haunting voice, he said:
"I know you not, caeruleus,
nor dare compete in sunlight with
the beauties of your world.
I shy away, despite the fact
I long to be the subject of
your gratifying pride
"And when you turn to blackest night,
when Sun's land no more threatens me,
my bravery wakes up.
I sing my song: sincerely I
intend to earn your prideful smile:
I love you so, caeruleus.
"In the moments that you show
your perfect, wondrous stars,
I feel your mystic power grow
and know this time is ours."
Lor paused, leaving me totally spellbound, and then resumed in prose.
"The Chanson flower is said to cry in the presence of two people who have found their soul mate," he said quietly. "And when it dies, it drops a leaf on which are written brief instructions in La Lengua de Flores, like a will, usually asking for the continued care of the plants it lived around. On occasion, however, it gives advice to a pair of lovers it may have observed during its lifetime." He smiled. His voice returned to normal. "And that's my presentation on the Chanson flower."
I started to clap but stopped as soon as I realised no one was going to join in. I blushed furiously with embarrassment. I glanced around the room, surprised by my uniqueness in clapping. Don looked bored, Mr Pots' brow was furrowed slightly and Teritt looked exasperated. Lor remained standing at the desk, his face expressionless until Mr Pots addressed him - at which point he turned to face him.
"Well," Mr Pots said after a long silence. "An excellent delivery, Mr Greatmaw, though the content wasn't quite what I was looking for. This is Flora, ... not Drama. I'll give you 6 marks for the delivery and I think 3 and a half for the content. That makes 9 and a half out of 15."
Lor nodded to Mr Pots and returned to his seat.
"Well, I think that was amazing," I whispered.
He looked at me sideways.
"Teritt next," Mr Pots said.
Teritt rose from his seat looking grimly determined. He gave quite an uninteresting speech on dandelions. He mentioned that they were a weed and that their seeds spread by wind dispersion: hence the fluffy lightweight nature of the seeds; also he talked vaguely about transpiration which happened in all green leaves. Afterwards, Lor and I were bored like Don while Mr Pots was trying to smile at Teritt's evident effort.
"Well, we know Flora is not your forte," the teacher said gently, "so I think 4 and a half for your content is fair. 4 for delivery because you were clear and confident - that gives you 8 and a half out of fifteen. That's a pass, an encouraging mark for the first oral presentation of the -"
Teritt cut Mr Pots off.
"It was lousy and you know it." He went to sit back beside Don without another word, looking thoroughly annoyed at himself.
Mr Pots winced.
"You could always take up ... private tuition, Teritt." He sounded like he desperately wanted Teritt to decline the offer.
My suspicions were confirmed by the brief look of relief that Mr Pots was able to disguise in a flash when Teritt shook his head
Teritt's justification was "That won't change the fact the subject matter flies out of my brain once the lesson's over."
"I appreciate the offer, though," he added.
"Of course," Mr Pots said. He looked next to Don and for one second it looked like he was gong to get up from his chair and run out of the classroom tearing out his hair.
"Donald," he said weakly.
Donald smiled and walked to the front.
"The rose," he began," can be white, light orange, red or black. It has thorns on its stem because it represents love and love hurts."
I gaped, staring at him in shock. Was he for real?
"Well, sometimes that is," he said, looking at me and winking.
I closed my mouth and didn't respond.
Mr Pots looked like he had lost the will to live.
"Three for delivery, nothing for content, now go and sit down, Donald," he said crossly. "You can have a detention for wasting my time and not doing your homework."
Don looked furious.
"Lor didn't do his."
"Lor's speech showed clear evidence of preparation. He mentioned the shape of the Chanson flower's petals, talked about when the petals open, referred to some of the places it can be found... You, Mr Blackmaw, gave an immature and incorrect reason for the existence of thorns on a rose's stem. When's your next free period."
"Tomorrow, 5," Don answered, scowling.
"Then I shall see you then. If you miss it, the Alpha shall be informed."
Don stormed to his seat. Once seated, he stared at Lor. I turned to see the latter smiling, looking very smug.
"I don't suppose you're a keen biologist, Penny," Mr Pots said, looking faintly hopeful.
I shook my head. "Nope, sorry."
Mr Pots sighed in disappointment.
"Right, I'm going to make some notes on each speech," he announced to the whole class. "You may have a small time to talk." With that, he drew out a sheet of paper and started writing on it. Teritt looked like he had started doodling, Don was staring moodily into space and Lor began to draw another plant monster.
In a few minutes, Mr Pots looked up.
"So what other lessons are you seeing today?" he asked.
I glanced at my card.
"French, Moon Child Law and English."
Mr Pots nodded.
"I quite liked English at school. But I preferred Biology - naturally."
"I like English too. Also, Maths. if I could have a whole day of algebra and creative writing, I'd be happy."
Lor looked up from his art, smirking.
"Hey you!" I said "What's your favourite subject if I'm so strange?"
"I like Drama and Italian."
"How come you don't do Drama?" I asked.
He looked surprised. "How'd you know that?"
"Ed said only he and Teritt do it."
"Well, there's your reason."
I frowned. "You don't like them together?"
Lor shook his head.
"I don't mind their relationship. It's just ... Teritt."
I glanced unconsciously at Teritt. He was still doodling. I wondered what.
"Why?" I looked back at Lor.
"Well, you've seen him. His teasing. It just makes me slightly ... uncomfortable. His tongue is so ... loose."
I nodded. "I get you."
"It's so much worse when he's with Ed. It's confusing. No one would think that Ed did half the things Teritt goes on about. But, ... there you are." He shrugged.
I glanced at Mr Pots, suddenly wondering if he'd been listening. Fortunately, he seemed busy marking something.
I looked back at Lor and shrugged too.
"I have Psychology with only Teritt, and that's enough," Lor told me.
"Oh dear," I murmured.
"He's an alright guy apart from that," Lor said rather hastily, as though worried he'd sounded like he hated Teritt. "I certainly prefer him to Don."
My brow furrowed. "Yeah, what is it with you and him?"
Lor shrugged. "Personality clash."
I sighed. "Well, at least it's not because one of you did something awful."
"Right, chatting time over," Mr Pots said. "I'd like you to get your textbooks out and make notes on the oak, then the ash and lastly the beech tree. Homework for Wednesday is to complete that. At least seven points on each tree."
Lor, Don and Teritt took out of their bags a4 textbooks with photos of plants on their covers and giant letter F's. They also pulled out notepads with stripes of the school colours on the front and back and wrote the homework down. While Don and Teritt appeared to make a start, Lor merely resumed drawing.
I stifled a chuckle.
"So how much of your speech was improvised?" I murmured, curious.
"Well, I had the song lyrics written down and the different places the flower is found but all the rest I remembered on the spot."
Lor smiled at me.
"I'm probably starting to sound like I don't care about school, either," I said, grinning in amusement.
"Well, don't worry, we'll get that out of you," Lor said, winking.
I smiled in response.
It was at that moment that Mr Pots called my name.
"Be right back," I said, winking at Lor as I headed over to the teacher's desk.