After having rummaged through the bin a while, Tobey eventually managed to find his key and when he had cleaned it up with some paper from the toilets, decided it wasn’t worth going to English, especially as he had never got round to printing off the coursework that was due in that day. Instead, he skulked around the toilets, pretending to be reading the notices on the sports notice board, waiting impatiently for the bell that would signal the start of second period, maths.
Footsteps began to echo down the corridor, multiple pairs of feet. One of them was most definitely a pair of high-heeled shoes, which meant a teacher. Possibly even the head- her office was nearby and, as she was rather short, had a famous love of extravagantly high heels. Tobey’s eyes grew very wide and he quickly checked his watch, hoping that the classes around were about to end, in which case he could disappear into the moving mass of bodies. But no, it was ten minutes before the end of the lesson, and he was skipping first period. Alarmed, he prepared to hurl himself bodily into the toilets to avoid the reprimand that would surely come.
“Tobey Merritt, just the person I wanted to see,” said the headmistress, cheerily. It was funny how someone so small- she barely reached his shoulder even in heels- could have so much power and could inspire such fear.
Hand on the blue plastic handle of the toilet door, Tobey turned his head to smile back at her and mumble a few words of greeting, his heart sinking to his black school shoes.
“I have a little favour I’d like to ask of you, if that’s ok.”
Tobey thought that given she’d caught him out of class when he was supposed to be handing in his GCSE coursework, of course it would be ok, and quickly gave his assent.
She smiled again, turning slightly and taking a step backwards. Tobey followed her gaze. Standing beside her, towering over her, was a boy he felt confident he had never seen before. He would have noticed someone so distinctly odd-looking, he felt certain. The boy was tall enough that the top of his ginger quiff would reach the top of any doorframe he walked through, with slightly bloodshot, very pale eyes in between a constellation of bright freckles. His disproportionally long arms brought to mind a gorilla, with stocky legs no longer than Tobey’s own, though (admittedly including the crest of his quiff) the other boy was four inches taller.
“This is Paul Webster, he’s new here today, and he’s going to be in your form. Would you help to show him round and take him to his next lesson?”
“erm, sure,” Tobey replied with trepidation. Paul seemed to radiate a kind of self-possession belonging only to the cool, those who know their place is assured. He visualised himself as a mouse, attempting to guide a cat, which, at any moment, might bite off his tail and then swallow him whole. “What do you have next?”
“Maths,” replied the boy, in a rather loud voice that seemed to echo along the empty corridor. “With RG in H3,”
“Same,” said Tobey. At this, Paul beamed, sincerity shining from every pore. “Come on, let’s go. Gardener’s fine if he likes you, but if he doesn’t, he will make your life hell, so you’d best not be late on your first day.”
“Thanks for the warning,” laughed Paul, tipping his head back in a hearty chuckle. “Bye, Mrs Parker. Thanks again,”
He began to follow Tobey round the corner. “So, how come you decided to come here in the middle of a term?” Tobey said as they were heading towards the H building. “If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I swim, but the pool near my house closed, so your headmistress said I could come here and use your one. Seemed easier all round just to move school.”
“Seriously, proper swimming? Like, competitions? Like, the Olympics?”
Tobey felt a sudden surge of disappointment; he had found himself liking this new boy, this Paul Webster. Suddenly, the news of his athletic prowess was a reminder of his own status –or rather, lack of it- in the school. Paul would be one of the cool guys, someone like Aden, who all the girls would fancy just because they were sporty. One of those guys who wouldn’t look twice at Tobey. One of those guys who wouldn’t think twice about insulting Tobey.
“Hey, what’s up? You look like a wet Wednesday in Wolverhampton,” asked Paul, pulling a silly face to cheer Tobey up. “That’s better. You seem like a sane person, tell me all about the school. Forewarned is forearmed and all that jazz. And don’t spout all that rubbish in the prospectus about teachers carefully nurturing us to reach our full potential, I’ve had that up- to- here. What’s it really like? I want the dirt.”
Laughing, Tobey proceeded to tell him about the goings-on in the school enthusiastically, gesticulating wildly, even after they arrived at the maths classroom and he’d got out his books. They were talking so loudly that Josie turned her shiny-haired head to look at him, and Tobey didn’t even notice. In fact, they only stopped talking under Mr Gardener’s death stare.
School was looking up.