The Tide that Turned in Spring

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4. Wrecking Ball

Chapter 4: Wrecking Ball

"I asked you to leave the exam room in silence!" Mrs Forster yells after us as we leave the exam room aka. The sports hall. Despite the fact these are only mock exams, the teachers take them SO seriously.  Jel still hasn't spoken to Zook because it was parents day on Friday so he practically spent all weekend with his Dad. Henry's parents took both Henry and Zook  as well as Candice out for a meal on Friday and like Jel, they spent all weekend out. My mum didn't come because she is too busy with her campaign to be re-elected as councillor so I had a very dull weekend revising and catching up on Game of Thrones so I could watch it with Zook and Henry on Sunday night. I met Henry's parents who were very charming and friendly but they were also very religious and conservative and I could see why that would make Henry and his various siblings have rebelled in the way they have. So I come out of the mock exam and see Henry and Zook walking in the distance.

"Hey you guys, wait up."

Zook and Henry turn around.

"Sorry TJ."

Jel is with his popular friends as usual, Brad is with Lulu because they are completely inseparable and Trent doesn't have to sit these exams so he's probably playing tennis or something.

"Oh my god, is that..." Zook trails off, pointing off into the distance.

"Yup. Brad with Rome."

"Or to be correct," I add in. "Brad arguing with Rome."

We watch for a moment.

"Am I missing something?" I ask.

"Yup TJ, I'm afraid you are."

"Well Henry, any more detail?" I ask.

"Its a long story TJ and Henry is a crap storyteller. Get Jel to tell you, he's the best."

I sigh.

"Anyway, this  afternoon, as it's so hot.."

"Zook, it's like 17 degrees."

"Trust me Henry, that's hot for Britain. Let's have a game of topless football when we get back."

"Sure. Jel can't say no to that."

"Considering it will probably turn into a grass or water fight." I add.

We head back into the house and Zook head into our room and Henry heads into his. There's a knock.

"Who is it?"

"Who do you think?" Brad yells back.

"I don't know. Password?"

"I shouldn't have to ask permission or say a password to get into my own room."

He barges in.

"You could have just done that. You're a really idiot Bradley."

Brad just sits down and starts revising.

There's another knock.

"Who is it now?"

"Jel."

We look at each other.

"Password?"

"Barnacles."

Zook laughs.

"Nope."

"Higgly piggly."

Zook laughs out loud. I'm guessing that that is some kind of inside joke

"Okay, I suppose you can come. Brad, open the door."

"No."

Jel just comes barging in anyway.  Zook is still laughing. I'm not gonna ask.

"Oh Zook. I've missed you. Are we cool? Do you accept my apology?"

"Apology for what? I've entered us in to play doubles cause Adrian wouldn't let me drop out. You really think I'd drop out that easily? I thought you knew me Jel."

Zook clambers down his ladder.

"So you're not mad at me?"

"I actually stopped being mad at you on Saturday because there was something funny I wanted to tell you."

"What was it?"

"I honestly don't know."

Jel comes up to Zook expecting a hug and they do hug for a moment but then Jel tackles Zook and pings him to the ground.  So Zook wrestles his arm free and pings him between the eyes really hard so there is a small red mark.

"Hahahaha! Bindi spot-!

They start fighting and rolling around like puppies, Jel trying to ping Zook  back. Then they bang into Brad's chair and almost knock him over. There is barely room for three of us on a normal day and therefore with two 6ft teenages wrestling on the floor as well as Brad revising and me sitting on my bed, I can see why someone like Brad might find the lack of personal space upsetting and aggravating. 

"Will you please stop? Please?"

Jel and Zook look up.

"Fine. Come on, let's go and have fun outside. Bet I'm gonna beat you there!" Zook says, scrambling up and rushing out the door.

"Not a hope in hell Zook." Jel yells, sprinting after him. I go across the corridor.

"We're gonna have fun outside Henry, you coming?"

Henry clambers off his bed.

"You bet."

We see Gwebe coming up the drive so we ambush him and tie him to a lamppost on the drive. Then we start off playing topless football but it turns into a huge grass fight. That night during prep, there is grass everywhere and because Brad wasn't involved, he is super uppity about how much mess we made.

"God, I mean..."

"Jeez, stop moaning for once Brad. It's doing my head in."

"TJ!" Jel yells.

"Excuse me."

Zook gives me that face as if to say 'don't leave me, please!"

"I'll be two minutes."

 I go through and as usual Gwebe is not saying anything as he does his art prep (Gwebe is a real sissy), Trent is throwing a tennis ball around and Jel and Henry are watching a movie together. Mr H untied Gwebe eventually because nobody else would and gave us a huge lecture at 7pm check in about treating each other well.

"TJ, are you coming to tennis ladder after this?"

"Yup. What are you watching?"

"Spartacus. It's a TV show."

"We've just opened an Arkansas Netflix cause you can add multiple people to the same account-" Henry explains.

"But you have to pay me £1.20 a month." Jel adds.

" Seriously? Thank you so much."

"You don't need to thank us man. You're part of the crew now and it's we can watch all the same TV shows and keep up with each other."

There's the sound of heavy footsteps so we scramble and I go and pee. When I come back, both of our rooms have their doors propped open and Zook is sitting at the end of our room with our bin while Henry and Jel take it in turns to throw a basket ball across the corridor from their room, trying to get it in the bin which Zook is holding.

"Ah TJ, you can help me by obstructing Jel... Right Henry, your go."

"Year 10..."

Peterson's (the second in command of this mad house) drippy voice fills the corridor so we

scarper.

"You know Mr H asked me yesterday if I thought Trent was fitting in ok.

Zook laughs.

"That's exactly what I thought. Fitting in my arse."

Zook laughs very loudly. Our room is very small and there is a wooden beam that runs across the ceiling Zook's new favourite activity during prep is to try and shimmy across it like a monkey.

"Fitting in your arse? Don't take this wrong way but I don't think Trent let alone Mr H would-"

"Look. Do you mind?"

  We'd both forgotten Brad was there. "I'm going to skype Lulu. We're going to talk about our band."

We both look at each other. I'd forgotten they're forming a band together.

"But you're going to see her in like half an hour." Zook replies, swinging his legs around the beam.

"I wouldn't expect you to understand Zook."

With that Brad plugs in his headphones and Zook continues to try and swing his legs around the beam.

""TJ, can you tie me on?"

Zook has tied all of Henry's ties together and I try and tie him on as best as I can.

"Hey."

He has Lulu on  full screen and Brad seems to have forgotten not just that we can see her too but that she can see Zook shimmying across the beam and me tying Zook onto the beam.

"I'm fine. No...I was trying to work...So if Lexie sings, I'm on piano and you're playing bass...yeah we need someone on drums too..."

Zook bursts out laughing and looks at me. I mime something and he laughs even louder.

"You know TJ, I had a bad feeling about this..."

"About what?"

Lulu looks up at us and says something to Brad.

"Oh don't worry about them...yeah, it's like this every day. Zook, Lulu is wondering what you're doing?"

Zook's leg's start doing something funny.

"TJ, I'm falling! Help me!"

Brad just has his head in his hands. I scramble down and try and catch his legs.

"No don't pull down my trousers you absolute..."

"But you're tied on..."

He swings his legs back around and after three attempts manages to get his legs up, with my help of course.

"Right. Ok."

Lulu is just watching and laughing. Then someone else comes next to her and Brad takes out his headphones.

"Oh my god, you guys are insane."

I think her name is Flick.

"Hey Flick." Zook  says and Flick just laughs.

"Hi Zook."

Flick dissapears for a moment.

"Brad, can you get Jel, India wants to talk to him about something-"

Brad's face. God. It's priceless.

"Year 10 are you-"

Brad shuts down his screen. I look up. Zook looks down.

Peterkin stands nervously in the doorway, adjusting his glasses and fidgeting.

"Umm...Zachary. Are you umm... supposed to be up there?"

Zook tries to shake his head and I can tell so hard he's trying to hold on.

"Umm..can you errr...get down then. Bradley, Ben, are you working?"

Peterson stumbles over and Lulu just sits there on skype;. She winks at him.

"Umm..,Bradley you really should be..."

Lulu says something and Brad laughs loudly.

"She says you're looking hawt today Sir."

She blows him a kiss. Peterkin goes scarlet and adjusts his glasses again.

"I do not think that that is...errr..appropriate..."

He backs out of the room and trips over the bin with the basketball in it.  We laugh very loudly as he scampers down the corridor.

About 20 minutes later, we go crashing through to Jel and Henry's room.

"I'm SO bored! Can we do something?" Zook says, considering this evening he's watched Netflix, played corridor basketball, ruined a skype conversation and shimmied across a beam.

"Like what?"

"Oh I don't know Henry, something fun. Shall we beat up Gwebe? That's always fun."

"We could like tie him to a tree or something."

To cut a long story short, we end up playing cricket in the corridor.  Zook is batting and Henry is fielding behind him and Jel is bowling and I'm fielding behind him.  Then Zook bats it a bit too hard and neither Jel or I manage to catch and instead of running to get wickets, we just watch as it goes crashing through the firedoor and the corridor is suddenly full of glass.

"Oh shit! What do we do?"

Jel thinks for a  moment.

"Grab your tennis stuff and run!"

So that's precisely what we do.

"Wait, I'm coming too." Trent says as we grab our trackies and letterman jackets and tennis rackets.

"Woah, what happened?"

We just drag him through and we sprint all the way down the tearoom fire exit stairs and into the woods behind Arkansas where Trent and I stop for a breather and wait for the others. Trent lights an e-cigarette.

"I didn't know you-"

"I'm trying to quit."

Jel and Zook join us.

 "Where's Henry?"

"Oh the old fatso is having some sort of asthama attack. Do you smoke Trent?"

"E-cig. Wait actually, I have packet of real ones, do you guys want them?"

We look at each other.

If there's one thing that came out of Trent's brief stay, was that he introduced us to smoking. This one brief offer would haunt us for the rest of our lives.

 "I don't see why not." Jel says and takes the box from him. He lights a cigarette and takes a long drag.

"Hey losers, wait for me."

Henry comes huffing and puffing through the trees.  He looks at us standing in a circle and Jel passing Zook a cigarette.

"I'm really missing something aren't I?"

"Hmmm...it's not as bad as I thought.  Care for a drag Henry?"

"Why not."

He passes it to me afterwards as they discuss what's going to happen at the tennis ladder semi-final which is what we're heading to now. God, the smell, the taste, the smoke, this reminds me so much of Elliot.  I hear his voice in my head as the smoke passes through me.

"Hell fire Gecko! You're a friggin pussy! Just take a drag for crying out loud!"

"We should probably go." Jel says checking his blackberry and slinging his tennis racket over his shoulder.

"Okay now honestly, whose first cigarette wasn't that one I just gave you?" Trent asks as we go through the trees.

They all turn and look.

"Seriously TJ?"

I nod.

"Off all people TJ, off you all people." Zook says, putting an arm around my shoulder and rubbing his knuckles on my head.  As we walk through the gates into the astro, we see something that even shocks us. But before we can intercept, Adrian bars our way.

"Ah, year 10. Delightful."

"What's happened? I thought TJ and I were supposed to be playing?" Henry says.

"Well, I know it was you four who broke the window on the year 10 corridor so as a punishment, I took you off the ladder. Besides, they're playing a fantastic game.  Better than either of you two could."

He moves and the whole year turn to look at us. Then they look back at Gwebe and Ivy.

We know we've done something beyond what anyone thought we could. Valerie approaches us. 

"I don't believe this. I mean...they barely know each other." She says, trailing off.

"How did you know they were playing?"

"I heard a rumour that they really liked each other but I didn't think it was actually true."

She looks back at  them.

"Also Jel, I need your advice about something."

And they disappear off into the crowd. He looks at us and rolls his eyes. We do the acknowledgement nod and he slips back into his Arkansas letterman Jacket. I don't think Valerie knew how easy it is to make the crowd believe a lie. You show them something, tell them what it is, even when it's not true and they will believe it. The manipulation of truth is a wonderful thing. Just none of us knew how to do it.

"Wait you did what?" Nat asks, bringing Ben back to the present day. Hearing Ben's story, that question runs through Nat's head more and more and his dislike of Ben is continually growing, not that Ben will notice. He's too wrapped up a past that he's forgotten Nat didn't experience too.

"We rigged the tennis ladder."

Nat brings his knees up to his chest. Ben runs a hand through his hair and forms a half smile that charmed and fooled so many.

"Jel. I have no idea quite how he did it. He had connections in some really odds places. But they played each other and the reason this changed everything was because although everyone had heard they fancied each other, nobody believed it until they played tennis."

Nat has never bullied anyone but he could totally imagine Ben was the ultimate bully and had no problem ruining lives. Nat had never really been picked on but if he had been, it would have been by guys exactly like Ben.

"So did Zook and Jel play the Americans in the end?"

"I'm just getting to that."

Nat wonders if Ben last heard from any of these people he talks so fondly of. He makes out that they were one big family but Ben seems to have forgotten that Nat also spent many years in school and boys in his school were nothing like those in Arkansas. He wonder's how much is what actually happened or if this is what Ben tells himself, no matter how true it may actually be.

"So this is one of your G&Ts?" Trent asks, raising an eyebrow. Our G&T is an outdoor one complete with giant games such as chess, Jenga and checkers as well as a stereo, footballs, Frisbees and two massive bouncy castles.

"Yeah.  At the moment, the year 11s are having a fancy leaving dinner but when they're finished, both of our years are having a dance G&T." Zook explains.

"But until then, we have to deal with this crap. Even the music is bad."

"God Henry, don't be such a music snob. Would you like me to go and ask them to put on something different?"

"Cheers Man."

Jel ruffles Henry's hair and disappears off. He stays with his in crowd and doesn't return. However, he does change the song. Jel came in a nordic onesie to try and be in with his old friends because he wants to try and talk to Val but she won't talk to him if he hangs out with us/

"Oh god, really?"

Henry looks across to give Jel the evils and Jel just laughs.

"I swear I've never heard this before in my life."

"Trust me Brad, if you shared a room with Jel you'd know. It's called Oliver Twist by D Banj. Jel knows that I hate it."

Brad doesn't say anything for a moment. But we know his attention has been drawn else where.

"Oh, I'm gonna go talk to Lulu. I'll see you guys later."

"Wait, Brad, are you guys together?"

He turns on his heel.

"No, we're just friends."

" 'Just friends' huh?" Zook mutters as Brad disappears off.  And so six, becomes four.

"Well, we better keep ourselves busy." Zook says and so we do. We play football, rugby, Frisbee and manage to commandeer one of the bouncy castles. It's only when we're throwing each other into the walls that we spot some of the year 11s loitering. The first one we can see is Ivy.

"Come on Henry. " Zook says, scrambling up and missing his footing so he goes tumbling out of the bouncy castle onto the grass.

"Nice Zook. Wait for me."

They look at me for a moment and I nod.

"Come on Trent, let's go and get a drink."

We leave Zook and Henry and go and get a drink. Jel and all his popular crowd are all in those really expensive Nordic Onesies and they're all lolling near the stereo, drinking pepsi and trying to look as cool as you can at a G&T like this.

"Jel, can I have a word?"

He just looks at me.

"Can it wait?"

I point to where Zook and Henry are dragging Gwebe along to an unsuspecting Ivy who is standing with a few people. Jel chokes on his Pepsi. Gwebe seems to have been covered in coke and has a few bits of popcorn in his hair. Zook and Henry must have got really bored.

"Excuse me."

We go faraway from the crowd and Jel whispers.

"What are they even-" They say something and she remains completely emotionless. Then Gwebe legs it across the field and Zook and Henry sprint after him.

“Oh shit.” Jel mutters, swigging down the last of his Pepsi. “We’re really done for now.”

“And there goes Ivy.” Brad says as he joins us.

We really are. Zook and Henry grab Gwebe by a shoulder each but by the time they have cornered him and got him, Ivy is long gone.

“What the hell are we going to do now?”  Jel asks as Zook and Henry join us.

“Well don’t look at me.” Brad replies crossly. "I was actually busy before I was summoned here."

"Fine Brad. You know what. Go and be busy. You did agree to this like everyone else and just because-"

Zook stands between them.

"Brad. Just go. Jel, let's go into the G&T and pretend nothing happened."


We leave the outdoor G&T and head across the cobbles, past the fountain where a couple are sitting and really all over each other and into the basement where all the year 11s are dancing and gyrating around like crazy. It starts like a pretty average G&T; Zook happens to know all the words to the song so him and Henry start dancing like crazy, Rome is talking to Valerie while Jel talks to the other girls and Brad and Lulu are dancing very close together. Then it changes.  Out of the gyrating crowd appears a girl who I've near seen before in my life. She's got coffee coloured skin, long dark hair and coffee coloured skin. She's beautiful not just cause of her face and skin but of her body which despite being pure muscle, is still very curvy. She must be one of Trent's contemporaries. She starts to dance across from me .

"Err...I'm Ben by the way."

"Jennifer

I spin her into me and then I spin her out and I turn around to look at Zook and Henry who are egging me on to keep dancing with her. The song changes to 'Where have you been' by Rihanna and I keep spinning her and dancing with her .Out of the corner of my eye Jel approaches Zook and Henry and whispers something to them. They gesture to me to join them. I mouth back.

"I'm busy!"

They continue to gesture to me to come.

"I have to go."

She looks a little hurt.

"Will you message me?"

"Sure."

I leave her in the crowd and go to where Zook and Henry are waiting.

"Couldn't it have waited?"

They drag me away anyway.

"Right, TJ , there you are." Jel says and gestures for us to follow him outside into the Quad where Valerie is sitting by the fountain with Celine and Lutra.  Jel gestures something about knocking her into the fountain and so when we get over there, we're all stifling a laugh.

"So Arkansas, I have a proposition for you."

Oh great.

"Now, there's been an idea proposed. This applies to all of us okay?"

We nod.

"While this bet is going on, no relationships."

This really only applies to Jel.

"Okay. This is you too isn't it?"

"Yup. All of us involved. If any of us so much as kiss anyone, the other side automatically wins. Okay?"

We sit and think for a moment.

"And what about Brad?"

The girls look at each other.

"If Brad and Lulu get together, they are not allowed to break up."

Considering this only affects Jel, we look at each other and agree.

"Fine."

Jel and Valerie shake on it. Zook whispers to me.

"It just as well you didn't kiss Jennifer."

I'm about to reply something when Henry suddenly realises something.

"Where did Trent go?"

We look around.

"Last time I saw him was when I came to see you Jel."

"Hmmm...he must have gone back to house."

"Shall we head there too?"

We look at Zook and think for a moment.

"Yeah let's. See you girls later." Jel says and we mumble something in their direction.

"Thank god I can get out of this onesie." Jel says as we go past St Richmond's Quad and up the road.  "I feel like a knob."

"Trust me, you look like one." Zook says and Jel shoves him into Henry and Henry shoves them back. They probably would have kept shoving each other if a car hadn't come through and made us part so it could go through.  We go back into Arkansas, into CC and turn left up the stairs, like we always do. 

We're about to go into our separate rooms when  we hear Mr H's dulcit tones. His office is at the end of our corridor and he can hear and see everything.

"Year 10!"

We look at each other. We know we're in trouble.

"YEAR 10!"

We shuffle along the corridor, and he's sitting on his swivel chair at his computer. When he spins around, we see he is fuming.

"Where is Trent?"

We look at each other.

"We assumed he had come back to house."

Virtual steam comes out of Mr H''s ears.

"EVERYONE HAS BEEN OUT SEARCHING FOR HIM! YOU COULDN'T JUST DO ONE  JOB AND KEEP AN EYE ON HIM FOR TWO GODDAMN HOURS!"

"Sir, what's happened?"

Mr H turns and looks out his window. We go over and sure enough, Brad and Lulu are sitting on the grass. I still can't believe they're not together yet. He opens the window and shouts from two floors up:

"BRADLEY HIGGINS! GET YOURSELF INTO MY OFFICE NOW!"

Then he storms back to his seat.  He sits down.

"That boy..." He takes a deep breath. "That boy was caught in a compromising position with an older girl. He signed an agreement saying that he wouldn't misbehave and he did, he would immediately be sent back to America. His flight leaves on Monday morning."

We look at each other. We'd grown quite fond of Trent and it's a bit of a shock for all of us that this crazy turn of events mean he is going so soon.

"Who was the girl?" Jel asks just as the door opens Brad comes tumbling in.

"Ah Bradley, finally you decide to show up."

"Dad, our close time isn't for another half an hour."

"BRADLEY! DOES IT LOOK LIKE I CARE? CAN YOU ALL JUST SIT DOWN? PLEASE?"

 We all squish onto his sofa.

"Okay. So Trent is going back to America because you couldn't look after him for two goddam hours-"

"Whereabouts is he now?"

"In the medical centre. He's not allowed to see anyone."

"Are we allowed to see him before he leaves."

"It depends on how well you do tomorrow in the tennis tournament."

He checks his emails.

"And for letting this happen and not keeping an eye on him, you're all grounded. Now get out of my office! NOW!"

We mooch back along the corridor, slightly in shock and Brad goes into our room and slams the door so we head into Jel and Henry's room.  Jel slams the door behind us.

"God! Why is everything our fault?"

We just look at each other.

"You're right. But it makes you wonder whose fault it was." I say after all.

"Well not ours. Let's watch a film on our new Arkansas Netflix?"

We climb up onto Jel's bed and we watch a horror film and Zook and I end up dragging our mattresses into the big room and crashing on the floor.

We all go to breakfast on Sunday because despite it being the one meal of the week that isn't compulsory and therefore there is the chance of a lie in before Sunday assembly, it's definitely the  best meal of the week (apart from fish and chip Fridays of course.) It's not raining for once and all Zook and Jel can talk about is this tennis final that's happening this afternoon.

"I think we should ask Mr H if we train before lunch..." Zook is saying and Jel just looks at him.

"After what happened last night, you really think he's going to let us go?"

Zook laughs

"Probably not. We'll have to be super quick at lunch though."

"If the tournament is at 2, maybe we shouldn't go to lunch, so we can properly warm up."

"But we don't want to go hungry, Jel, you know what I'm like."

Henry speaks up for the first time.

"Yeah Jel, he won't play nearly as well if he hasn't eaten."

We go into the dining hall; Jel and Zook still talking animatedly away, Henry looking at what's for breakfast and Brad being deadly silent.

"Wait Zook, your tie is seriously bothering me." Henry says as we queue for the full English breakfast.

"It's fine Henry, go and take your OCD else where."

"TJ, you can go in front of me. Zook, come here."

Zook sighs heavily.

"Brad!"

This time we all sigh as Lulu comes barging through. There's an awkard moment as they embrace and Jel mimes behind them, sellotaping them together. Lulu turns around and he goes back to being 'normal.'

"Oh TJ, Ugly, could you guys act as ball boys for us while we train this morning?"

We both agree instantly.  Anything to get away from this soppy mush that we now have to endure.  We hastily leave them in the queue and go and get juice then sit at our usual table.

"Oh, losers. I have so exciting news." Jel says.

"Does it involve Brad?" I ask, looking up to see if he is coming.

"At this rate, probably not." He replies, tucking into his black pudding. I butter my roll and  then realise I didn't get any ketchup.

"Zook, do you mind if I have a bit of your ketchup?"

"Go for it. Is it my turn to get the hot drinks?"

Jel and Henry both nod.

"It's TJ next week."

Oh great.

"Henry, do you want your usual?"

He nods.

"Okay. Jel?"

"Normal tea please."

"TJ?"

"Normal tea as well please."

"Ok so peppermint tea for Henry and two normal teas for you guys?"

We nod and he disappears. During the week, we never have enough time for hot drinks so it's become a weekly Sunday ritual.

"So what was it you were going to tell us?"

"I'll wait for Zook to come back."

We watch Brad enter with Lulu and he sits down with her and a table full of girls.  There's a long silence until Zook comes back.

"Jeez, you guys are a very silent bunch. Here are you drinks as requested."

He hands them out and when we've finished our food, we all look at Jel, waiting for his exciting news.

"Oh yeah, well, as we're all now single, I was thinking of having a party for my birthday in August at my Aunt's flat in Edinburgh. You'd arrive and we'd maybe go and see a movie or something when you arrived, then the next day which would be my birthday, we'd spend the day in Edinburgh."

"What about in the evening?" Henry asks, hoping the answer will what Zook and Him are both hoping it will be. "Will it be like new year at mine?"

Jel doesn't say anything for a moment.

"As long as Zook doesn't throw up again-"

"It was an accident! The wine was off!"

Jel and Henry both howl with laughter.

"You should have seen it TJ...the couch was cream as well..."

"Okay okay, we've all made our mistakes. So are we going to get plastered or what?"

"Trust me Zook, we are. Let's go to assembly?"

"Yeah lets."

The excitement about the tennis continues to surge all through that morning. We have a very quick lunch and then Henry and I act as the ball boys as they train.

"Ugly, TJ," Jel says, putting down his racket and beckoning us over. We get off the bench and meet him the at the railings that separate us from the astroturf.

"Would you mind filling up our water bottles?"

"Of course."

His voice drops to a whisper. Of course that wasn't really what he wanted to say.

"I'm gonna have a word with Brad. Lulu has just gone into the sports hall, can you keep her busy for a few minutes?"

"Of course."

We're about to go when he calls us back.

"Look, I know these past few weeks haven't been that exciting for you two but I just wanted to say thank you for everything you've done."

That's the first time I've seen Jel be appreciative.

"It really means a lot, to have you guys helping. We're a team and by god, we've become a good one."

Jel and Henry share one of those rare smiles and Jel ruffles Henry's hair.  Then he high fives me.

"Now you guys, go and find Lulu. Zook and I have a tournament to win."

As predicted,  Lulu is there, doing god knows what. Neither Henry or I have any idea what to say to her.

"If you're waiting for Brad, he's on the astro." Henry says after a really long pause.

"Oh no, it's fine. I know he's there."

"Are you coming to the tennis?"

"I don't know. I haven't decided yet."

A door slams as we fill up the water bottles. 

"Oh Arkansas. What a pleasant surprise. No truly, I was really hoping I'd see you."

Oh great.

"Oh and if you see Brad, can you tell him Rome sends his...kindest regards."

Henry turns around.

"Why can't you just do it yourself? Or just let us be?"

"Now now Henry, there's no need to get angry. Brad just owes me one. Come on Lulu, I think you and I need to have a little chat. Leave the freakshow alone."

She just stays sitting there.

"I said, come on!" He grabs her arm and drags her up.

"We've got business to attend to."

We leave them to it.

"Now you understand TJ, why we don't like Lulu."

"Trust  me, I worked it out a long time ago."

We head back to the astrofturf and Jel comes up to us and puts an arm around Zook's shoulders.

"Come on Zook, let's go and win this. Prove everyone wrong."

And they very almost do.  It's six sets to four and it's very tense. The crowd is on tender hooks and the only noise that can be heard is the ball being served. Jel and Zook could so easily win this.

"Ah, Arkansas. So we meet again."

We turn around and Rome has approached us again.

"So, you're done with Brad. Tell me, who is next."

The crowd start to cheer. We turn back around.  Jel is about to break the other teams serve. They serve and he goes to hit it and jumps to get it.  Rome leans over and whispers:

"One by one you'll go..."

 The sweltering heat.

"Disappearing into the dusk-"

and cloud of dust from the astro.

"Of misunderstanding-

The smell of sweat in amongst the roaring crowd

"and hurt."

and animalistic nature of it all; it all swirls into one as Jel's footing slips and he goes crashing onto the ground. The crowd goes silent.

"Who'll be the last one standing?"

 In the midst of the heat and the tension, Henry's phone beeps.  He looks down and his facial expression changes completely. He looks up and the whole crowd look with him. The girl who has just walked in. She is the one who got Trent expelled. And everyone in this crowd knows it. Apart from Henry. She looks at him.  He knows now he must make a choice. His sister. Or his family in Arkansas.

"Come on Henry. It's time to make a choice." Rome whispers. "Arkansas, or your family? Where do your loyalties lie?"

The umpire calls a pause in the game. Jel doesn't get up.

"Henry, come on. We have to help Jel."

"But TJ, she's my sister."

"But Henry. She's your family." Rome says.

He takes one last look at her and she mouthes.

"Help me, please."

"Ben, if that was your sister, what would you do?"

For a moment, it's not Candice standing there but Emmy, my poor ill sister.

"Get away from him you little shit!"

I grab him by the collar.

"You know nothing Rome. Nothing.  So don't pretend that you do."

"I know nothing do I? I know more than you realise"

He presses a finger to my chest.

"I know that things are not going to last in Arkansas. Just you watch. Things will be falling apart before you know it."

I shove him aside  and push my way through the crowd and onto the astro where Zook is also kneeling beside him.

"What's happened?"

"He's torn a muscle in his back." The first aid person says.

"We've got to get him to the san. I think this match is over."

Zook looks so crushed.  Henry comes barging through the crowd.

"Wait for me, I'm coming."

"God. It's not like I've been shot." Jel says, forcing a smile. "My back just hurts like a bitch. Ugly, can you do me a favour?"

"Sure."

"Can you order a me kebab tonight?"

Henry laughs out loud.

"And would you like me to bring it to you in the San?"

"Well if you could, that would be awesome. TJ, could you hand my physics homework in tomorrow if I'm not there?"

"Of course."

"Oh and Zook, go and get that second place. You deserve it."

And with that, he is helped into a car and whisked away.

We bring a bag of things to the San and his kebab after dinner that evening.  Jel hates the idea of him being an invalid and he doesn't find it funny that we brought him grapes or a get well soon card. I go to pee and as I come back, I see Trent of all people, dragging a suitcase and a tennis racket.

"You off?"

He nods.

"Do you want me to carry anything?"

He hands me a tennis racket and we make our way towards the front door.

"Wait, should I go and say good bye to the others?"

I think of them; Jel eating his kebab and getting mayonnaise everywhere while laughing at Zook's jokes and Henry's sarcastic comments and completely in their little serene world.

"No don't bother. I'll tell them you say goodbye."

I walk with him to the front door where a taxi has pulled up.

"Wait, how come you were in the Medical centre?"

"Apparently it's where you go if you get suspended. It's crap policy if you ask me."

I laugh half heartedly.

"Before I go, can I ask you something."

"Of course."

"What's your real name?"

I laugh.

"Benedict. But most people call me Ben."

"That makes so much more sense. I thought your parent's wouldn't have christened you TJ."

There's an awkward silence.

"Well I guess this is it. I must admit, at first I thought you guys were really weird but I have grown kinda fond of you guys and your crazy ways. Good bye TJ and good luck."

I put out my hand for him and he shakes it. 

"You too Trent."

And with that he get's into his taxi and I go back into the San, slamming the door behind me. The sun sinks low into the summer sky and I go back to Jel's room, to the only  real family I've ever known. I don't see Trent for a long time after that.



































Chapter 5: Haunt

"Benedict!"

My mother has many qualities both good and bad but her main one is being able to shriek my name up three floors in the same ear piercing, glass shattering tone that she has been using for as long as I can remember.  I get up and open my window to the smell of grass being cut and the sound of the waves lapping against the cliffs.

"I'm coming."

I've just come out of the shower and I was checking my Facebook but of course, my mum has other plans. I change and run downstairs. The table is covered in leaflets, flyers and posters, all with my mum's fake smiling face on the front. My mum is campaigning to re-elected as the local councillor and her campaign is going crap. I sometimes wonder if that's why she sent me so far faraway; because otherwise I might ruin her chances by being so badly behaved. It's my best theory yet.

"Are you going to work?"

I nod. I despise my job.  That was the first summer I was moved from working as a kitchen porter to being a waiter out front. It is not how I intended to spend my holidays but my mum, being one of the powerful women in town, always finds me a job. She'd very good at bullying local hotels and restaurants into making me KP (wash dishes) or as of this summer, work front of house for them for 3.29 an hour, 6 days a week. It's honestly a load of crap but I'd rather be washing dishes then be badgered at home. It's somewhere different every summer and every summer, the place I end up is always crap.

"You need to ask Sid for Saturday night off. I'm having a few people round for drinks."

By that, she means like 30 posh friends. I wait for her to finish her sentence.

"Well, you need to be there. The Jessop-Hutchinson's are going to be there-"

We've known the Jessop Hutchisons since we were tiny and they live in the old manse, which is a beautiful redbrick building, in the grounds of St Oswald's church with its fading walls and crumbling graveyard. The church faces east while the graveyard stretches out west behind it and it's at the end of this graveyard that my dad decided would be good land for him to build what he assumed would be a house where his children could happily raised and he could grow old with his new wife. Well look how that turned out.

"And you need to be there to talk to them. Eleanor is thinking of coming into Sixthform at St Richmond's College and she wants to hear all about it." My mum continues to chatter.

What a load of crap. I know Eleanor hates me. We are not on speaking terms.

"Ok yeah, whatever."

I start to make my way out the door.

 "Well, send Mr Leighton best wishes."

Mr Leighton is one of the few people in this town who doesn't completely hate my mums guts.

"You tell me this everyday Mum, and everyday he replies the same thing.

"Tell your mother she is a wonderful women, but she is still banned from  my pub."

My sister Emmy looks up from her coconut milk mocha. I know, gross right?

"Why were you banned from Mr Leighton's pub?"

"It's a long story."

That basically means either she hit someone or told them to be grateful for the wonderful changes she has made to this town. And then probably hit them. My mum can get quite violent when she wants to be. Question her bin policies and whack, that's her point made.

"Did you hit someone?"

My mum death stares her. I decide this is a good time to leave. I head down the path, across the road and to the Elysium café bistro and bar. I make my way through the masses of tourists; hordes of spade brandishing, anorak wearing tourists with their maps and roof boxes and mini boden clad children who always thought us local kids were two weird and alien to play with. I'll never forget though, the excitement of crabbing for hours, despite only catching one. Trying to play cricket and rounders in the garden in the drizzle, the smell of barbeque smoke. The over lapping of the sea. The taste of  sausages and burnt marshmallows cooked on an illegal home made bonfire on the beach. The back ground noise of Wimbledon as I strung CDS together to put on the roof to keep away the seagulls (this was an annual ritual, it's never worked). The feel of warm grass or sand under my toes. It's the part of Filey I took with me but in return, I left something behind. I haven't worked out what it is but I've been missing it ever since I woke up one day last year and the leaves were gold and with the tourists, summer had gone too. I wonder how old you have to be before summer looses it's magic.

"Hey TJ."

I turn around and Guy, who works front of house, is sitting in the alleyway next to the staffroom door, smoking a cigarette.

"You alright?"

"I'm not bad at all. And yourself?"

He nods. I've told everyone my name is TJ so nobody knows who I truly am.

"Good thanks. Oh by the way, the chefs are in a foul mood." he adds.

Oh great.

"Someone sent through an order for two steaks and the order said they wanted them medium well but they actually wanted them medium rare. So yeah, shit went down." Guy continues. "Oh by the way, I got you your cigarettes."

"Oh my god. Cheers Man. Thank you."

"It's no problem. Being 16 sucks cause you can't buy anything."

 That was a tiny lie that I'm worried is going to escalate. He passes me a lighter and It's such a relief to be able to smoke again. That's one of the only things I like about this job.

"What time are you finishing today?" I ask

"Finish. You?"

"Eight."

"You're so lucky. I hope Sid won't keep me too late. There's a group of us going out tonight to Bacc's and I don't want to bail on them."

"That's fair enough." I say, stubbing out my cigarette and he does the same. Baccs is short for Baccus, the one night club in Scarborough. That's all there is do around here. And people wonder why I hate this place.

 I go in and it's small, dimly lit and full of locals who I now have to deal with. I won't go into detail about being trained out front but it's a whole other experience from being sworn at by chefs and having pots and pans thrown at me. They love making fun of me because I'm super posh, apparently. When the service goes to pot, of course, this gets ten times worse. While the chefs are all very verbal, the other staff out front are deadly silent and cold. There are two girls who have come home from uni for the summer and just gossip and talk about their eyebrows. Lisa and Terry. The two older ones are talking about the cocktails they plan on making down the other end of the bar. I try and make myself useful.

"TJ!"

Nobody must know who I really am. The girl who beckoned me over has dyed blond hair tied up in a messy bun but the blond is slowly fading into brown which is my eyes, is not a good look.  Lisa. That's what she's called. But it's Terry who wants me.

"What do you think of my new perfume?"

Terry has thick dark hair drawn up into a ponytail and her eyebrows were so high up and drawn in that she looked in a constant state of surprise. She shoves her wrist in my face.

"It's...err...lovely."

It smells like every other girls perfume I've ever smelt.

"It has pheromones in it makes me more attractive."

They're both looking at me with a real sense of expectation.

"You know what a pheromone is, right?"

They both giggle.

"Of course I..."

"Of course you do."

Terry winks at Lisa.

"Girls, girls, leave TJ be."

Sid comes stomping through.

"Terry, go and start setting up the bottom tables for dinner. Lisa, there's a lot of cutlery that needs doing." He nods in the direction of the kitchen and she wanders off.

I clean, empty and polish about five trays of glasses. It's a pretty dull afternoon for a warm afternoon in July and you think they'd be more tourists. The afternoon slides into a warm summer evening to the soundtrack of the clatter of cutlery and the clinking of glasses as the warm smell of coffee mingled with the overpowering smell of frying. Sid, my boss appears eventually and I need to catch him before he disappears off to get Saturday off.

"Sid?"

"What?"

"Can I finish at 8 tonight?.”

Sid looks up at me. He's always reminded me of a badger; stout, black hair with a dyed white streak and a habit of working into the night. All I know about him is that he is fond of beer, has married twice and is a great support of Filey FC. Honestly, I don't quite know how he has managed to endure a lifetime in this town, serving the same locals and dealing with my mother's petty policies. In this town, I suppose, he is someone, he's made something of himself and yet, he is someone I would never aspire to be.

"Why?"

I sigh. There are about five people standing around Sid, trying to see the next Rota he has just been typing up and I don't want them to know that my mum is n fact, the most hated women in this godforsaken town.

"All of you, go back to work You'll see the rota when it's finished."

"My mum is organising something and apparently, I have to be there."

"If I don't, is she going to ring me up and yell at me down the phone until I let you off?"

"Well, she might tell you that your bistro/bar/café doesn't fit within the councils health and safety regulations about seagulls or outside litter or something like that."

He laughs.

"And would she yell at me down the phone?"

I nod. He laughs again.

"Ok. You can finish at 8. Is that alright?"

I nod.

"And if she doesn't, well she take all those regulations and shove them up her uptight-"

"Sid?"

He turns around and is called away.

 On Saturday night, amongst the masses of tourists that come flooding in, I see one face that makes me almost drop my glass. Of all people to come in. Of all people.

"TJ, can you make me a black coffee with hot milk on the side and a Cappuccino for table 15? I've just got to seat these people" Sid asks. I start to heat up the milk and I see Ivy out of the corner of my eye.

"TJ." Adam clicks his fingers at me. "Focus." Adam is very cold and sharp and I think he holds it against Sid for never promoting him.  I switch my gaze back and sure enough, it's about to overflow. I swear under my breath. Making coffee is harder than it looks.

"That's not a cappuccino. "Adam looks at my coffee. "For fucks sake. It's closer to a weird flat white. Well for gods sake, don't just stand there. Take the other coffee and come back for this one."

I do as he says as he remakes the cappuccino.

"Have you checked on all the tables?"

All apart from one. But he doesn't need to know that.

"Here, take this."

As he hands it to me, someone taps him on the shoulder.

"Adam, can I have a word?" Lisa asks and they disappear. It turns out that someone has bought all the staff a round of drinks and Lisa, who is working on bar tonight, doesn't know who is old enough to have one.  7:40. 20 minutes to go.

Sid makes an entrance and joins the kerfuffle about drinks. I seem to be the only one actually doing anything. The bell goes for food. More people come in, looking for a table. Sid breaks everyone up and they go rushing about their business, more stressed than before.

"TJ." Adam clicks his fingers again. "Can you go and check on table 5?"

"Well, are you busy?"

Adam snaps around.  He hates it when people talk back to him.

"You want the honest truth? They're well posh, you're well posh and I hate posh people."

That's the worst reason I've ever heard.

"Fine."

I go over and everyone in her family makes eye contact with me apart from her. Eventually she looks up at me and something flashes across her eyes. This is the first time I've ever met someone from St Richmond's in the outside world and it really creeps me out. I hate it when my two worlds crossover. It's also because I'm a much cooler person at school than I am here.

"Everything ok for you?"

Her parents nod.  I leave them to it.  There is only one word I can use to describe the look in her eyes. Fear. Pure fear. But I can't hurt her here.  Out of school I am completely powerless. And that was a pretty terrifying feeling.

"Ok TJ, you can go." Sid says, joining me next to the coffee  machine.

"Wait, what, can I really?"

"Sure. We've got enough people on and besides, you've got somewhere you have to be don't you?"

"Yeah sadly."

"Well before you go, come down to the bar. We've prepared you something."

I sign out and sit at the bar, waiting for my special drink.

"Here we go."

It's some sort of cocktail.

"What the fuck is this? And why am I drinking this? I'm only 16."

"Shhh, just drink." Sid says, pushing the concoction towards me.

"What is it?"

"Cucumber, watermelon syrup, Jägermeister, amongst other things."

They're all pressuring me to drink it. I think Sid is doing this to spite my mum and to be honest, I'm on his side.

I take a sip and they all encourage me to keep going. I've never had anything so strong. I've never even tried alcohol. I feel it completely go to my head. The room begins to spin and I feel like I really have to steady myself otherwise I'm going to fall off the chair or say something stupid.

"Enjoy that?"

The taste of Jägermeister burns the back of my mouth and when I stand up, the room spins. I have to steady myself by holding onto the bar.

"I'll take that as a yes."

Nat, the reason I'm telling you this is because it made me realise how powerless I was outside of school. And this was something I should have remembered.

I leave out of the staffroom door, the room still swaying and I go down towards the promenade because the Elysium  café bistro and bar is right on the seafront  The central town of Filey is actually on a hill that is significantly higher than the row of houses on the sea front and from the front, it looks like two layers of buildings on top of each other . The only thing between them is a thick belt of trees. I lean against the railings and decide to light a cigarette to steady myself. Then I look out across the beach,  with the Filey Brigg peninsula encircling the bay on the left and The Flamborough headland trapping us in on the right. Beyond that is the horizon and the endless turmoil of the feral nature of the sea against the forced rigidness of man. 

"This sea Gecko. It will never leave you. You know that. No matter where you go, it will come back to haunt you. Can't you feel it? The singin' of the waves. The taste of salt. The grainy sand under your toes. The calling  of the seagulls circling in the wind. It haunts me even now and I live here.

I remember I paused the level on the PlayStation, on that cold December day, all those years ago and replied:

"El, that's because it's your home."

He turns around and puts down the PlayStation controller.

"No, this is our home Gecko and our homes always haunt us."

I didn't think anything of his rambling then. I just told him to the restart the level on the PlayStation and to stop being a bairn pot. Now I look back, he was right.

 "You know, at £10, 000 a term, I was hoping he would have done more by now... " I hear my mother say loudly.

Emmy sent me a text warning me about how awful my mum's drinks party was going to be and oh my god, she's so right. It's god awful. I've never so many people in loafers standing around talking about going to the Olympics and the economy and breeding and boarding schools. I'm also struggling to see straight and my head is swimming, which is not helping. Emmy and I are standing by the table with the nibbles and Pimms for the guests while Mum and  her friend Mrs Jessop Hutchison, bitch and boast.

"Some teenagers just take a while to adjust. My Hector fitted in straight away though..." Mrs Jessop Hutchinson, replies.

"I suppose you're right-"

 "Well some schools are better than others for this kind of thing." Mrs JH  (Jessop-Hutchinson)  interrupts in her teachery way. She is headmistress of Filey Primary school and likes to think of herself as not somebody  to be messed with. "I only paid £9000 for Hector to go away and he had a hell of a time. He was in the first teams for rugby, hockey and cricket you know. And he sang in the choir. Very good dancer, my Hector. Very good indeed"

My mother with her divorce, an ill daughter and hedonistic son, has nothing to boast about.

" I suppose it's about who  they spend time with and what the people are like. " Mrs Jessop Hutchinson continues, pursing her lips. She has a very pinched in, thin face with lots of black in hair always tied up in a scary up do and is as thin and angular as a rake. There's a long silence.

"Some of these places accept any old people but St Richmond is for the most elite teenagers that there is. I think your Eleanor would love it there." My mother says, sounding like the true snob she is. Mrs JH laughs and snorts. My mum pretends she doesn't notice.

"Well I think QM is just right for Eleanor-" (Queen Margaret's school in York, for all you commoners, jokes, I was kidding, jeez Nat, I was only joking.) "But she seems think it will give her a more rounded education to spend Sixthform in a mixed school.  I mean, Hector was fine at Uppingham. He's got an offer from Bath to study finance and accounting because although he got five offers including offer from Bristol,  Exeter and Bath, it wasn't academically ...stretching enough." God she's really setting him up. Mrs JH takes a sip of her gin and slim. "You see, after the Oxbridge exams didn't go to plan, he needed somewhere he could reach his full potential. Still, a prediction of four A's should be enough despite the fact in year 12 he got a U in-"

"Mum, I am here." Hector says loudly. I didn't even realise he was standing anyway near us. He rolls his eyes. I've always been a bit young to talk to Hector but I suddenly feel really sorry for him. If he doesn't get into Bath, then his mum has set him up for a huge fall. I'm suddenly aware that the age gap between Hector and I isn't as big as I thought and he is the not the grumpy silent teenager I remember him to be.

Emmy, Hector and I share a look. The unspoken rule of drink parties for people our age; the young  must talk to the young.

  Emmy looks at Hector:

"So, four A's huh? That's impressive."

"Oh fuck off. Like that's going to happen."

"So why accounting and finance?" I ask, trying to ask sober.  I feel everything swaying slightly and I have to be really careful about how much I talk or if I stagger when I walk.

"To get out of Filey I suppose." Hector replies after a moment, taking off his beanie and running a hand through his slicked back hair.  "If I do get the grades, I'll probably drop out after a few months and reapply to art school."

"You're going to do what, dear brother?"

Eleanor joins our gathering and I shift from one foot to the other, avoiding her gaze. We are not on speaking terms. Hector stays silent.

"That will surely give Mum something great to boast about, considering you are the favourite."

Hector pulls himself together.

"You and your grudges Eleanor. At least I'm giving her something to boast about."

"But why would she want to boast about shit?"

There's a really tense moment.  I look Emmy , signalling that we should step in and do something. And by that, I mean she does something.

"At least your mum has something to boast about." Emmy say and I join her laughing nervously.

"Well, I'm gonna get out of here. And Ben, try not to sway or stagger. You're giving yourself away."

With that, he leaves us and Eleanor goes to get nibble and doesn't come back.

 And then there were two.

"Are you alright?" Emmy asks me. I nod and stare into my glass of lemonade. I can still taste Jägermeister. She knows I've been drinking. She just knows.  She gives me the I'll-cover-for-you look.

"Benedict! How charming!"

I turn around and Mr JH is striding towards me.

"Long time no see eh?" he says as he clasps my hand and shakes it firmly.

"Tell me, how is boarding school working out for you? Wait, neither of you have a drink. Eleanor! Get these two charming young people a drink. What would you like? Something soft I imagine,  I know how your mother is about alcohol."

He brays loudly with laughter and we nervous laugh in return. I don't know why Eleanor's doing it, considering we're the hosts and it's our house.

"Eleanor, bring two lemonades."

She skulks off. 

"So Benedict, how is boarding school working out for you? It must be a real change from good old Filey eh?"

Hmmmm...not really. Still claustrophobic, small and like a fish bowl.

"Yes I suppose. But it's fantastic, it really is."

"And I can imagine there is a lot to keep you busy and out of trouble!"

He laughs again. Hmmm...again, not so sure.

"Yes there's all sorts.  We just had a tennis tournament and..."

"Ginger, here is your lemonade." Eleanor says grudgingly as she hands it over.

"And you're now working at..."

"Elysium."

"Ah, charming place. Well. Kind of. Is it still Sid Leighton still running it?"

I nod.

" Thought so. I mean, not my kind of people who go in there. Too...what's the word..."

"Common. You don't have to say it out loud dad, everyone know that's what you're thinking ."

Mr JH is ignoring her and turns to talk to Emmy instead.

"Emmy, tell me , how is going with THRIVE?"

Well obviously I wasn't interesting enough.

"What's THRIVE?" Eleanor asks.

"The charity who give my sister gardening therapy. Your mum recommended them."

"Of course she did. So I must say Ginger, it's been a very long time. You're not looking too bad though, I must say."

"Are you going to drink that Pimms?"

She hands it to me. I really shouldn't drink it. Everything is swimming as it is. I down it.

"Oh Ginger, are you trying to get drunk? What an actual badass."

"Well aren't you?"

"My parents would kill me and I think yours would too."

I just say that to keep up the sober charade.

"Do you really care what they think? Come on, you're 15."

We move to loiter next to the drinks table and down a glass each.

"You're supposed to have it one part alcohol, 2 parts lemonade but I think my parents have it the other way around." I say.

The alcohol swirls in my head. I think Eleanor still views me as some spotty kid because she keeps calling me Ginger and I have to be someone more than that. I have to prove I've become somebody.

"Oh my god. He's here."

"Who?"

"My boyfriend. I don't know how to dump him. Why the fuck did your mum invite him?"

"To be with you I guess."

He's a drippy looking guy. Built like a string bean and with lots of floppy hair. He's also wearing a cardigan which lists him very high up on my sissy list. I see him introduce himself to my sister. Well that will be a match made in heaven.

"He's the son of my mum's best friend, who is also Lord Lieutenant for Yorkshire.  If I dump him, everyone will flip a lid.

Jeez. Practically royalty. An even better match for my sister.

"And he goes to Eton." Eleanor adds.

God. He should marry my sister, like, tomorrow, they're so well suited.

"Oh jeez, his parent's are here too. Fuck."

The Lord Lieutenant for Yorkshire is a small, stout man with a beautiful women at least 20 years younger hanging on his arm.

"His Dad is called Hugo, and that's his third wife Olga. She Latvian or something."

"But do you like him?"

"Who?"

"Larry, dumbass."

"Despise him. He moans all the time."

"Then why are you with him?"

"To keep them happy. The happier I keep them, the higher chance I have of getting out of this fucking town."

She looks up at me and we have a moment of mutual understanding.

"Let's get out of here then."

I follow her around to the back of the house and we go in the backdoor of my house and through and into the kitchen. The whole table is covered with the remains of bowls of crisps, cocktail sausages, canapés and olives. There are half eaten bowls of organic houmous, dips of mayonnaise and crayfish (Waitrose finest) and empty glasses. There is also booze sitting on the table.

"Oh my god, why does your mum have Peach Schnapps?"

"Your dad brought it. He made your mum a peach Bellini cocktail earlier ."

This is my chance to prove that I'm somebody a million miles better than who I was.

"I think we should drink the whole lot."

"Oh look at you Ginger MJ, the true rebel. Come on, let's go."

We take the drink and the crisps and go and sit on the cliffs and out of sight.

We take sips between us until I chug straight from the bottle and she giggles loudly and ruffles my hair. I'm suddenly aware of how close we are. I feel an urge swell deep within me. I put an arm around her.

"I've missed you Ellie."

"You're just drunk."

"No, I'm serious."

I kiss her gently.  Well I think about it. But before I can get close, she suddenly slaps me around the face.

"Woah, what was that for?"

"You owe me an apology Ben Middleton Jones."

"For what."

My face begins to sting. She jumps up.

"That's the only reason I got you drunk!  The only reason I suggested bringing that drasted peach schnapps and giving you Pimms! Christ!"

"But for what?"

"You know what. I won't let you near me until I get this apology from you. It's all your fault."

That was about Eleanor's only quality that made her different from the rest; she loved holding grudges and blaming people.

  Eleanor's cardigan wearing boyfriend finds us.

"There you are sweety, I've been looking for you everywhere."

"He tried to  kiss me." She mutters. The traitor. I suppose this is her revenge for me not apologising.

"How could you? She's my girlfriend! You know that!"

His whinging is doing my head in. I suddenly wonder if he's going to hit me. It looks more like he's going to burst into tears.

"You want to fight?"

He backs off.

"Well do you?"

Of all people, Emmy intervenes.

"STOP IT! ALL OF YOU! You're making such a scene! Ben, apologise!

I grab Eleanor and shove her towards her stupid boyfriend.

"Take your fucking girlfriend. I've got better things to do."

I start to make my way home and light a cigarette.

"I love her you know. More than you'll ever know! You'll never have her!"

Trust me, he can have her. I turn around and stub out my cigarette.

"Oh won't I? Trust me, she won't be with you for long."

"Oh she will."

"Why?"

"You're just a spoilt brat. And a nobody. At least my parents are someone. At least I'm someone. At least I'll be remembered."

That makes me stop dead. Something surges within me. A wave rises.  Nobody tells me who I am and what I'll be remembered for.  Nobody.

"At least I'm enough of man to able to do this."

In the midst of being about to punch him, something else gurgles within me. The hell of an evening I've had flash before me. I've served Ivy and realised how powerless I am in Filey, had a Jägermeister cocktail, had two glasses of pimms. I helped Eleanor drink half a bottle of peach schnapps and then in due course, been slapped around the face by the same girl, a girl who until today I wasn't on speaking terms with and yet I've known for 12 years.

"Benedict, there you are. "

Oh god. Of course my mother is here. And with Hugo and Olga. This could not be any worse. I back off from Larry and straighten up to shake Hugo's hand.  Well if I'm going to look like a complete idiot, I might as well do it in style.

"This is Hugo Davidson -Wicker von Miechstazal III, Lord Lieutenant for Yorkshire and his wife Olga."

It gurgles. I put my hand out to shake his. It gurgles again. Larry keeps trying to get Hugo's attention and Hugo swats him away. I bet Larry is going to tell him about my true nature.  I feel myself start to sweat and get all hot. First on my hands then on my forehead. I hear Elliot's voice in my head . Nothing like a nice clammy handshake to get things going Gecko.

"Nice to meet you-" I say. It can feel the gurgling beginning to rise.

"Olga."

I put out my hand and it stops gurgling only to rise up as a wave. A wave of alcohol induced vomit. It lands mainly on Olga's silk playsuit but also on Larry's cardigan and Hugo's Italian shoes

Well that's me never allowed back in Filey high society ever again. This evening was an example of why I should never drink. There is a dead silence. It isn't so much a huge continual wave of vomit, more like a wave and then coughing the rest up. My mother is shocked speechless. And with everyone watching, I light a cigarette.

"It's been a pleasure meeting you all. A true pleasure. Particulary you Hugo-"

I cough up vomit.

"Over and out."

I leave them there and I storm out.  I plug myself into my IPod and the first song that comes on is 'Haunt' by Bastille. I go around the other side of the house and when I can walk any further, I fall over and into the grass. I light a cigarette and smoke it slowly. The oceans we carry within us, we are incapable of controlling the damage they can do. It's depths go beyond anything we can imagine. I smoke another cigarette and the ocean rages against the cliffs. The last thing I remember thinking before I passed out was that I don't know what's worse, being forced to leave a place or being forced to come back.












Chapter 6: Die young

My dreams all swirl in and out of each other but when I wake up, I know I'm in big trouble.  I'm still in what I wore yesterday and the taste of Pimms lingers at the back of my mouth. My mother is furious. No seriously. She absolutely flips a lid.

"That's it Benedict! I'm sending you to Riverton hall! I don't have the time or the energy to control you! You are going to ruin my chances of being re-elected, even though I sent you as faraway as possible and it will be the end of my career! You're getting the first train tomorrow from Scarborough and hopefully that will knock some sense into you!

So my theory was right.  Riverton Hall is our ‘family home’ and up in the middle of Nowhere in Scotland near Wick. When I say ‘family home’, I do mean an estate with Tenants and a house that’s been in our family for 250 years. Against my will, I put on the next train from Scarborough and the 22 hour train journey is long enough to make me regret everything I've done. My Aunt Collette picks me up from Wick train station and has a very forced smile on her face.

"Benedict.”

I give my Aunt my best smile.

“How lovely to see you? How are you?”

“Very well thank you.”

We make very awkward conversation along the single track road and then up the windy drive until we pull up next to the other landrovers and jeeps while Riverton stands there; imposing and huge against the back drop of the desolate moors.  The house that may be huge but it’s huge, cold and crumbling with no insulation, a leaky roof and virtually no heating.

“Mummy what the-”

My two stupid cousins also appear outside. Roderick is the biggest wanker I’ve had to be related to.

“Ben! Good god!” Roderick comes up to shake my hand. “Has that school done nothing for you? Not made you a man yet?” then he whispers. “Oh I can smell it has.”

Wanker.

“It’s been great thanks. I’ve loved taking your place.”

He tries to give me a Chinese burn but my cousin Stephanie shows up so we have to act civilised. After I’ve said hello to Cousin Stephanie, you can hear my Uncle Anthony thundering down the stairs from a mile away. My Uncle is a human incarnation of Toad from Wind in the Willows. He’s overweight, loud, goes to a gentleman’s club, loves good food, fine wine and always has a ruddy face, wears corduroy trousers and has the poshest laugh in the world.

“Benedict!” he brays. “How wonderful to see you my boy! Ruddy wonderful day isn’t it?”

“Yes it is thank you.”

“You coming on the shoot this weekend?”

“Of course! I’d love to!

“That’s my boy! We’re going to have a pre-lunch and I’m sure you’re old enough to have port with us before we go…”

We start to head inside.

“Roderick, take some of the luggage in old chap, make yourself useful.”

Roderick sighs heavily. I’ve got my own room for a change which is about the only good thing about being here. I put my slippers on and head downstairs to find something to eat. I get to the bottom when I hear Roderick’s stupid voice.

“Oh look at you…going shooting and getting all close with Uncle Anthony.”

I just look at him.

“Oh, do you want to come?”

“No. Annabel’s coming.”

“Whose that, your escort?”

He comes sprinting down the stairs and bowls me over.

“You little shit!”

We start fighting. Not like beating each other but verging on it.

“Boys!”

My Aunt Collete comes strutting through.

“Sorry.”

“Control your hormones, please.”

I’ve been there four days when my retard of cousin Ronan came to stay from Ireland. I was woken by the fire alarm and the smell of burnt bacon and that’s when I realised it was going to be a long few weeks here. When fire alarm first went off, I was in the middle of a really interesting dream and woke for a moment thinking I was back at school. Oh I wish. I sat bolt upright, scrambling for my glasses and a pair of boxers and wondering what the hell was going on. Then there was a lot of shouting and kerfuffle so I jumped out of bed and pulled on my trackies and after going through the bathroom, trudged downstairs.

“Ronan. What the hell are you doing you retard?” I mumbled.

“Bacon?” He asked, completely ignoring me.

I just looked at him.

“Ah Benedict. Good morning.” My Aunt Collete bustled through and I presumed she had been up since half six.

“Morning.” I mumbled.

“What would you like for breakfast?”

“I was hoping for some bacon but someone burnt it.” I eyeballed Ronan the retard who eating toast and marmite (ewwwww.)

I eventually ended up eating toast and marmalade because after a lot of looking in the fridge and moaning: “There’s no food in this house!” that was the only thing that seemed edible.

Ronan who told me every day he was my second cousin was beyond a retard and I spent a lot of my life being expected to ‘occupy him’ because apparently my first cousin one removed Dylan (Ronan’s dad) decided it would make him a man. I doubt it’s made anything but. Ronan is just a fat weirdo who likes setting fire to things like my breakfast yet can’t shoot/stalk or fish and everyone loves him apart from me.  I spend quite a lot of time hiding in my room, smoking my cigarettes and looking at the irony of my life; how you spend your whole life going from place to place without having ever called any of those places well and truly home.

Luckily I get to escape in the last week of August. I get the train from Wick to Edinburgh Waverly which takes forever and then I have to loiter around WHS Smith because as usual, Jel is not on time.  After 25 minutes, I suddenly take out my headphones and grab my suitcase. I could pick out that strut anywhere.

"Jel!"


"TJ!"

 I have no idea whether to go in for the hug or not. But he knows exactly

 "Come on you little shit, let's go!"

He goes in for the absolute bone crushing hug.

"Okay...can't breath..."

"Sorry."

Jel is the same as ever; huge, beefy, tanned and with scarily white teeth. I can tell he's been somewhere hot though, unlike me. I didn't ever get a sunburn this summer which shows how wet it's been.

"Come on, our taxi is waiting."

He draps an arm around my shoulder and we go up in various lifts and stairs to where the taxi is waiting.  It's half an hour drive to Dunbar and takes forever. Jel and I chat and catch up but's all small talk.

"Oh, how is your back?" I ask as we drive into Dunbar.

He stops showing me through his holiday snaps from Miami or Monte Carlo or wherever he's been.

"Much better thank you. Have you heard from Trent at all?"

"God no. I don't think I ever will. Ummm, is there anything I should know before we arrive?"

"Like what?"

"Like Henry's family situation now his sister has been expelled?

Jel shakes his head as the taxi pulls up a long stretch of drive.

"God. I'm glad you asked me instead of him. I think it's been awful. Really awful. I think he feels like he has to rescue the families reputation before his brother and sister start playing up and apart from being the black sheep, the last thing he needs is the attention or pressure."

"TJ!" I hear Zook yelling before I've even got into the house (which is beautiful and old with an enormous garden) and as soon as I've got in, he jumps on my back and ruffles my hair.

"Good to see you TJ." Henry says, shaking my hand. I unpack my things in the room we're sharing and then I head back downstairs where  Zook and Henry are both playing cards in the sitting room.

"We're playing cheat TJ, come on, we'll teach you." Henry says, making room for me next to the card table,

"Okay, dinner will probably be in about half an hour or so." Jel tells us. His cousin has cooked us a huge Paella and left us quite stupidly with a few bottles of Champagne.

"Zook, just bring 2 of the bottles , we're saving the rest for tomorrow. Henry are you still off dairy?"

"No I've given up. Beside I don't want to miss out on the cake."

We all sit down around the table and I notice another place has been set.

"This Paella is incredible, did your cousin make it?" Henry asks.

"I sure did."

She's comes striding in; the epitome of ultimate bohemian artist complete with long flowing skirt, a lot of hair, barefoot and completely bejewelled with two ear piercings in each ear, loads of bracelets and rings and half of a ying and yang necklace. I also notice she has various toe rings too and a few ankle bracelets.

"Ah Ben, you've arrived at last. Sorry I was working, otherwise I would have come to greet you."

She swishes around and I put my hand out to shake hers but she goes in for the hug and kisses me on both cheeks. She smells like...coconut and this creeps me out so much. I'm not a huggy person at all.

"It's fine don't worry."

She sits at the head of the table.

"Well you can start. Jel, do you want to open the champagne?"

"Of course."

In the end Henry has to open it because Jel can't.

"Would you like some?" He asks her but she waves him away.

"No thank you, I don't drink."

We all look at each other.

"Please though, do go and have some. And if you want to smoke, feel free but just not in the house."

What is this? Smoking and drinking?

"I'm guessing you don't smoke  then." I say as Henry gives everyone a little bit of champagne.

"Oh no. It interferes with my art you see."

"So you paint?" Zook asks.

"God no. I write books."

We eat in silence for a moment.

"So you're all from St Rich's aren't you?"

We nod.

"And all Arkansas?"

We nod again.

"Arkansas was always the best boys house. Well, apart from Vermount of course."

"That's only 6th sixform isn't it?" I ask.

"Yup. After being in Alvie Lodge with 67 girls everyday, I would escape there not just for the quiet but also for the chocolate spread cause in Alvie it would go in an instant."

I'm so confused.

"Her boyfriend was in Vermount." Jel explains.

Ah, that makes so much more sense.

"Are you still with him?"

"Yup. He does things with biology and I write books. We're a pretty good team."

She smiles at the memory.

"I'm going out to America to live with him in the Autumn and my mother, Jel's aunt, is retiring here."

The phone rings.

"Excuse me."

She swishes out and we all look at Jel.

"Does she always do that?"

"What?"

"Kiss people when she meets them? It's really creepy."

They all laugh.

"She has no sense of personal space."

"Yeah well I figured that." I mutter and Jel laughs agai n

"Wait Jel, how come you never told us that you had a cousin who'd been through St Rich's."

"And one who left not that long ago. She probably knew Leo-"

"And Roderick."

Jel takes a swig of champagne.

"I don't know what happened but she went into Alvie Lodge as a smartly dressed, conservative and very religious 14 year old and she came out like that."

He drops his voice to a whisper.

"I've never someone so disillusioned with the world-"

She comes swishing back in.

"Sorry about that."

We go silent.

"Well, you don't have to finish the conversation."

"Oh yeah.  Do you want to hear an interesting fact about Paella?" Jel asks and we all shake our heads.

"It symbolises the union of two ancient cultures; the Romans because they created the pan and the Arabs because they brought the rice."

That is actual quite cool.

"Where did you learn that?" his cousin asks.

"9gag."

We eat in silence for a moment.

"Can you pass the salt?"

"Sure thing TJ."

After a moment, Flo asks

"So what time are you going out tommorow?"

"We're going to catch the 11:10 bus into Princess Street and we're going to be back  to be back for 6 cause the minibus is picking us up at seven to take us to the beach."

"Okay. I'm not around then I'm working so please don't make too much noise. There's a few bottles of Prosecco in the fridge."

The rest of the meal is eaten accompanied by small talk but after we've finished and washed up, we all sit round in the tiny TV room on all the comfy beanbags and cushions.

"So, cheat?" Henry asks and Jel deals out.

"Can I pass this around?" Zook asks, holding the bottle of Prosecco.

"Sure."

Zook sips some and I take some after him and take a glug.

"Jeez TJ, I thought you didn't drink. What happened?"

They all turn to look at me.

"It was that I wasn't allowed to drink. And it's kind of a long story."

Jel takes the bottle.

"I'm not giving you anymore Prosecco until you tell us."

"Okay okay, it's not that exciting."

So I explain to them about my family and the garden party and the Pimms and Eleanor and they don't think it's as uninteresting but I think it is. They in fact think it was hilarious.

I decide to change the subject. I don't want them delving too far into my past.

"Zook, how is the tennis?" I ask, taking the prosecco from him as his face breaks into the biggest smile.

"North of England championship three times in a row. Jeepers creepers, I haven't seen me mam smile so much. She kept going on about how much of a once if a lifetime oppurtunity it is etc..."

The smile fades slightly.

"If you do go Zook, which I know you will, your mom is more than welcome to come and stay with me or to use my apartment in New York."

"But Jel...my mum has never met you...she couldn't..."

Jel has voiced Zook's fears down to the last word. 

"I know but come on, we're practically family. And besides, I can charm anyone." 

Zook suddenly looks almost tearful. Jel leans over and ruffles his hair. 

"Shall we start then?" Henry says, breaking the silence. "Hang on, wait, how was your summer Jel? I haven't heard."

"Yeah, did you go to that party of Lances?" Zook asks, sipping the Prosecco.

Jel takes a gulp from the bottle and his face falls.

"It was god awful. I've never been to anything like it and I don't I ever want to again. I've never tried Vodka and as soon as I walked into the room, I had something strong practically forced down my throat and after that there was just endless rounds of shots and I hated every second of it."

"Then why did you go?"  I ask as the Prosecco is passed around again. Henry drinks some and then passes it straight to Jel.

"Cause I was expected to be there. I had to be.  They tried to force me to get with some poor drunk girl but I couldn't. I just couldn't take advantage of her like that. God it was awful. There was no one person who was sober and that included me. The  just took out all my common sense."

 He takes another glug of the Prosecco.

"I just didn't know what to do. In a room full of people who've all traded their moral compass with alcohol, what would you guys have done?"

We sit in silence for a moment.

"So what did you do?" Zook eventually asks, taking the Prosecco from Jel before he drowns himself in it.

"I found her phone and texted her boyfriend to come and pick her up. Then I locked myself in the bathroom and fell asleep with my head on the bath."

None of us know what to say.

"I hope I did the right thing. I'm never going to one of Lance's parties every again."

 

The next day, we get the bus from Dunbar, aiming for Edinburgh Princess Street. It takes us a good half an hour to get ready and we only just manage to get the 10:40  bus. We're all okay with apart from Henry who despises public transport and won't touch any of the handrails or windows.

"Are you having a nice time Henry?" Zook asks and Henry gives him the finger.

"I counting the amount of the diseases that I'll probably catch if I touch this."

He genuinely said that.

"God Ugly, you're such a snob. This is the first time you've been on a bus before isn't it?"

"No..."

"You're such a little liar!"

Jel climbs over Zook and holds Henry's wrists in an attempt to clasp them together and make them touch the rail. All the other old wifies on the  bus are probably finding us either very entertaining or really annoying. At the next stop, the bus driver brings the bus to complete halt and get's out and strides up to us.

"Fighting is not permitted on this bus. If you're going to continue, I may have to ask you to leave."

Jel and Henry sit back but I know they're still jabbing and annoying each other.  Zook leans over and tickles Henry and Jel takes a rubber band and binds his wrist together and at there's a lot of jostling and fighting which results in Zook being pushed into the aisle and the bus driver pulling over and kicking us off, leaving us in a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. We sit in the shelter and I light a cigarette.

"Well what do we do now?" Zook asks as I pass him the cigarette. Jel checks his phone.

"There's only thing for it." Jel says after a moment as he takes a drag on the cigarette and gives it to Henry.  Henry holds up his IPhone and we take a selfie on it as Jel makes a phone call. 20 minutes later, we are picked up by an exceedingly cross Flo who has to squish all of us into her tiny car and is not impressed at all to have to drive us into Edinburgh.

"Where do you want to be dropped off?"

"Next to Edinburgh Waverly please."

She sighs heavily and after sitting in two traffic jams, she drops us off in the station car park.

"I'm afraid you're going to have to go through the station. I'm not going onto Princess Street."

She picks up her phone and dials a number, indicating that's time for us to go.

We all tumble out and eventually mange to make our way through Edinburgh Waverly.

We spend all day shopping and we go all the way along Princess Street and then all the way back and up over the mound next to the castle and down the royal mile where we have lunch. After lunch, we explore the Grass Market and head into Edinburgh Old Town. The weather is great, the shopping fantastic and I couldn't have to asked for better people to be weird with.  I've been waiting all summer for this and it's been worth every long hot day, sleepness night and snobby person I've been forced to endure.

We get the bus back to Dunbar at about 6:30  and our trip to Tesco’s, which although we didn’t want to go, creates the highlight of my summer when we stand and watch Jel trying to work the self-service and just piss ourselves laughing. I did so many fun and crazy things that summer but watching him arguing with the self-service, that was by far the highlight. Henry goes to help him briefly and after shouting some abuse at it, they get the help of a pretty shop assistant at which point Henry leaves him to it because although Henry will never admit it, he’s only used one of those self service machines once. He’s way too posh to have ever used one. Flo gives us a lift to the beach and we light an illegal bonfire, play topless football and cricket which both end up as Rugby and attack each other with sticks when Henry told us to collect them.

"Losers, sausages are ready." Zook says and we stop fighting and go and jump on Zook instead. We all sit around and Jel hands us all a beer.

"Cheers guys." Henry says and we all tip our bottles in.

"You know what Jel, I've done a lot this summer but nothing was as funny as watching you at the self service."

“It was in the fucking bagging area!”

“I agree with Zook. When people ask me, Ben, what was the highlight of your summer, I’m going to say, it was watching Jel have an argument with a machine.”

“Well Ugly helped me.”

“We more just yelled abuse at it while it sat there.”

“Of course it just sat there.” Zook says. Jel lights a cigarette and passes us all one. “It’s just a machine. Machines can’t feel.”

“Thank you for enlightening us with that fact Freak. Can I have a sausage?"

"Well what else are we going to do with them?"

“Not bad Freak. Not bad.”

“You’re not as dumb as you look.”

“Thanks Man.”

We sit and eat for a moment, watching the sun dip low in the sky, making the most of being together.

"You know, I was thinking of getting a tattoo." Jel says after a moment.

"What kind of thing?"

"Something small. Maybe something written in-"

Henry and Zook look at each other and start laughing.

"What?"

"You're gonna be a man. You need something manly." Zook says, continueing to laugh.

"What, like a gun?"

"No please! Anything but!"

"Jel! Don't be a male version of thuglife!"

Jel joins in their laughter. I butt in.

"Who the heck is Thuglife?"

They all continue to laugh.

"You know her, she's Ivy Jame's friend with the blue hair."

What?

"But why Thuglife?"

"She has a huge tattoo across her stomach of a revolver intertwined with flowers and thuglife coming out of the end." Jel explains.

"Why Jel, have you seen it?"

He flicks sand at Zook.

"If you ask her to show you, she's very happy to."

"So does she have a real name."

They look at each other.

"Nope."

We laugh for a bit longer and have another beer.

“Right, shall we toast marshmallows now or later?” I ask, poking around in the embers of the BBQ.

“Later I think.” Henry says and they all agree.

“Oh my god. Let’s go for a swim.”

“No Freak. Do you know how cold it will be?”

Trust Jel to be the fun sponge.

“Can’t we play a bit more football?”

“I agree with Jel.”

“Oh my god Henry, you’re so boring. TJ, you up for a swim?”

“Hell yeah.”

We think for a moment.

"Wait, weren't we going to play beer pong?"

They all look at each other.

"Beer pong and then swimming. It's a plan."

"Oh my god  Henry, we haven't told them the story have we? About the carpet vendor and the melon?"

The next 4 hours are a real blur. We play a lot of beer pong which eventually becomes Prosecco pong. We also have a toasted marshmallow fight and then Jel decides he's going to dig a hole so he does for about an hour straight. That's before we throw him the sea. He doesn't forgive us for a long time.











Chapter 7: Naive

It’s only afterwards you realise it’s nights like that you wish there were more of. I check my phone and that  night has become nothing more than a blurred memory and a badly taken background on my phone. I swear Mrs Lambert eyeballs me so I go back to paying attention. I think of her when we danced and they way she looked at me. It was a look that saw something very bad in me.

"Education. Leadership. Individualism. Teamwork. Elite. We raise students based on these five founding principles; students who are well educated, strong and wise leaders, who flourish both as individuals and teamworkers but are always  exceptional. So my message to you is to be live by this as you navigate your way through the sometimes stormy seas of this term. We will now sing the school song; 'When a knight won his spurs."

Our school song goes like this:

 

When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old

He was gentle and brave he was gallant and bold

With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand

For God and for valor he rode through the land

 

No charger have I, and no sword by my side

Yet still to adventure and battle I ride

Though back into storyland giants have fled

And the knights are no more and the dragons are dead

 

Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed

Against the dragons of anger the ogres of greed

And let me set free with the sword of my youth

From the castle of darkness the power of the truth

 

As usual we sing it very loudly as well playing the hymnbook game and trying to shove Gwebe off the end of the pew. We all came straight from Jel's party back to school and I'm still slightly hungover but not as bad as I was two days ago.  After assembly, Brad goes off to find Lulu and we head back to house for house meeting.  I think Brad and Lulu must be about to go out. Brad's been in the friendzone for months.  When we get back, Jake, one the year 12's has challenged a guy in the year below us to an arm wrestle and so everyone is sitting around cheering and yelling. There are about ten new year 12s, five new years nines and three new year tens so there quite a few people looking terrified and not knowing who to support, what to say or where to sit. Archie James (yes, brother of Ivy James) eyeballs Jel.

"Oi, Armstrong, you're playing whoever wins."

It's tradition for the older ones to call us by our surnames.

"You're on."

Being in year 11, we've moved off the piano in house meetings and now we all have to squish onto the windowsill as the sixthform get all the sofas, not that any of the newbies know that.

"Hahaha Farnsworth you SUCK!" Cas yells, tackling Farnsworth to the floor. "And Armstrong, you're on! Get your arse off that windowsill!"

Jel scrambles down and is in the middle of a very intense match when a door slams when Brad comes quietly in.

"Brad! King of the friendzone!" Zook shouts and the whole house stops watching.

"King of the friendzone no more." Brad says and he double high fives Zook. The whole house start clapping and cheering and wolf whistling and Brad takes a small bow. Everyone is making so much noise that we don't  hear Mr H's inevitable heavy thud coming towards the comm.

"Will you all shut up? God, I can hear you from my office! We scramble  back to our seats and Mr H sits down on the sofa at the front, taking up most of it and making two of the year 13s move.

"Jake, take the register please."

He works his way through the register until he get's to our year.

"Armstrong-"

"Yes."

"Gwebe?"

He sort of squeaks something. I think someone might be sitting on him.

"I'll take that as a yes."

"Higgins?"

We look around and amongst each other.

"So no Brad."

Mr H sighs heavily.

"Middleton-Jones?"

"Yup."

"And I can hear the other two from hear. Ingleston Reid and Thorton. I could pick you out anywhere."

They're actually taking selfies on Jel's phone.

"Now, I want to welcome you back after the holidays. I hope you've had a restful one and are ready for a hard terms work..." and he proceeds to spend the next ten minutes or so droning on about house rules and washing machines and times to send off laundry etc. Peterson comes stumbling in about ten minutes later and he keeps fidgeting and checking his watch, like for some strange, unknown reason, he doesn't want to be here.

"Now, this is mainly for the new members of the house. Each year group has a duty that they must carry out. Year Nine are in charge of outside tidiness, year 10's have to collect crockery-"

Did we? I didn't do it once last year.

"And year 11, you've got the highly coveted role of cleaning the tearoom. I've made a rota so you better stick to it."

We all groan. The tearoom is disgusting and not something I look forward to having to deal with, at all.

"Year 12's are wake up and year 13s, you have your captaincies which I will discuss with you tomorrow. Oh and year 11, you have a meeting tomorrow night in the theatre."

We groan again.

"Look's like some sort of compulsory show."

Everyone else laughs.

"Well if that won't keep you busy, I don't know what will."

Oh great. I can't wait. Not. I don't do things on stage. Not now and not ever.

"Well that's it. Go and get ready for your lessons. Oh year nine, I need a word."

We have lessons after break which is in about twenty minutes.  We file out and along, up the little steps, past  Matron's office, into CC and up the main flight of stairs. However, instead of going along corridor to our rooms that we had in year 10,  we continue up the stairs to get up the next floor where the year 13 corridor is. This is strictly forbidden, unless you're in year eleven like us and heading towards the loft which is at the end of the corridor, on top of the right wing. It's three rooms all squished together and completely cut off from the rest of the house.

"Come on roomie." Jel says, draping an arm around my shoulders and heading into our tiny room. It's got two low beds this time, a desk each as well as a wardrobe. Jel flops down onto his bed, kicks off his shoes and turns up his stereo. Jel is love with Avril Lavigne and as well as having a huge poster of her above his bed, he has a couple of her songs which he insists on playing all the time.  However, his song today is 'Teenage Dirtbag'. If you haven't heard of it, have you been living under a rock?

"Oi loser!"

Zook and Henry come crashing in and start singing along really badly and really loudly. It's not singing so much as shouting.  Brad comes in and joins us. We all look at him expectantly.

"So, give us all the goss! Did you kiss her?" Zook asks, turning the music down and we all sit down, eager to hear.

"Yeah."

"Well, what did it feel like?"

"It was very quick but I think it will get better with practice."

We're all so relieved they're together, after however many months.

"What did you say to her?" Henry asks.

"I told her that she was beautiful and she said thank you and that she spends an hour everyday getting ready so she was glad someone noticed. But it was really awkward because neither of us knew how to...I don't know...implement it. She's never actually been anyone like this."

We all look at each other .

"I find that hard to believe." Jel says, running a hand through his hair.

"Well, she has her reasons. She's got with people at G&T's and stuff but never a proper relationship. And I'm hoping it will be like how it's always been."

We all look at each other.

"How it's always been? You've been in love with her from the start." Henry says.

"We'll still be best friends, just some touchy feelyness as well. No gross PDA."

PDA means public display of affection. Jel and Henry both laugh.

"It never says like that. Trust me. Once the first love fever hits, you guys will be all over each other. You'll be inseparable and so in love." Jel says.

"He's right. You guys will be making out in the woods and in random toilets and dark corners." Henry adds.

"I always forget you had a girlfriend."  I say and Henry laughs rather ruefully.

"Yes, well, that makes one of us." He says. Jel changes the subject.

"Brad, if you and Lulu are gonna do the dirty, don't do it at school. Seriously."

"Thanks. You've lost your virginity haven't you?" 

Zook and Henry laugh. I should have guessed Jel wouldn't be a virgin, apart from being a year older and someone who can have almost any girl he wants.

"Oh Jel, you're such a loser. For someone so pretty, you couldn't find it!" Zook says, wiping tears from his eyes.

"Find what?" I ask.

"The hole." Jel replies, with his head in his hands. "It was dark though and I did find it eventually. God it was disgusting. I think, you either have to be really drunk or really love them for it to be a great memorable experience. Neither applied in this situation.  Brad, we're gonna have to have a wee talk."

Brad looks terrified.

"I'd think you'd rather Jel than your Dad, wouldn't you?" Zook says and we all laugh loudly. The thought of Mr H talking about the birds and the bees is enough to give me nightmares.  The song changes to Naïve by the Kooks comes on so we turn the music up really loudly and dance and sing along. And that's pretty much how it goes all week until Sunday after assembly

On Sunday, we come out of assembly and head back to Arkansas for yet another check in before Sunday Prep. Sunday prep is the hour and a half between Sunday Assembly and lunch which is closed house and we're either supposed to be tidying or studying. Usually we just watch movies or listen to music really loudly. At the end of check in, Mr H keeps us back.

"There's three things I want to say. First, remember your compulsory meeting this afternoon in the theatre. Second, after this, you're duty is to go and clean the tearoom. Apparently we have one of the worst ones on campus so have fun. Third, next time my son decides to get a girlfriend, please help with his choice. Leather wearing bass players usually aren't the academic type and if you want to go to Oxford, I have a feeling she may not get you there.  That's all."

Brad is mortified but as soon as we've left,  we just go into hysterics. We only stop laughing when we see the tearoom.  The floor is covered in a thick layer of jam, crumbs, cereal and noodles which stick to my socks as I walk in. You can't see the surfaces because they are covered in so much shit. Empty jars, bread crusts, empty small bottles of milk, butter both left on and smeared over the surfaces as well as jam, marmite and honey. There are dirty knifes, bowls with half eaten cereal, empty bags of crisps and a half eaten cake, left over from Mr H's grub with the year 9s, covering the table as well as a few large bottles of coke and irn bru which people have been drinking and backwashing into al weekend. There is also houmous going mouldy and half of watermelon which has a few forks in it which people have also been picking at all weekend. There are also more mugs than I can count. There are also bowls with two days old noodles on the floor and the bins are overflowing. Don't get me started on the sink. It is filled high with dirty crockery and noodles block the plughole. It smells like, well, shit. And there is a faint smell of vomit. I think someone may have been sick over the fire escape stairs. God. We really do live like animals. The sound of year 9s who have been here for less than a week fills the corridor and Jel stands in the doorway not letting them in.

"No. You're not coming in here. Not until we've cleaned it."

They cower and start to dissapear.

"Jel, we should have got them to take the bins out. None of us want to do it. Think of all the shit we did in year 9."

"Fine."

He yells down the corridor:

"Year 9!"

They turn around and scamper towards where Jel is standing.

"Take the bins out." He orders.

"What?"

"Take the bins out. It's one of your duties."

They do absolutely as he says.

" You do this every week ok?" Jel orders as they struggle outside. Oh the joy of the hierarchy. Then we put some music on and divvy up jobs. It takes us half an hour.

"Oh have you guys heard, we're getting some new people in our year." Jel says, sweeping the floor again because Zook just stood in what he had previously swept up and trailed it everywhere.

"Who did you hear it from?" Zook asks.

"India. They're arriving today I think. She used to be at school with them and says one of them is like Rome and the other is a total drip. Sounds like they'll totally fit in in Gallagher."

We all agree.

"Jel, if one of them is like Rome, you mustn't pick any fights with them." Brad says, scraping marmite off the table.

"Brad is right, we don't need anymore enemies. Shall we just throw the table cloth away?"

We agree cause we know neither Mr H nor Matron will notice.

"Wait, where's Gwebe. He should be here."

"He can do the washing up

"I'll go." Jel says, dropping his brush. He comes back two minutes later, dragging Gwebe by his uniform. He shoves Gwebe towards the sink.

"Well. What are you waiting for? You're not coming back until those dishes are done." Jel orders and then we leave him to it.

 

 

After lunch, we head to the theatre.  All of our year have actually showed up and as usual when we're made to wait for about more than 10 minutes, we all start to get rowdy and people start play fighting, throwing cushions across the theatre foyer and there are two people really getting with each other in the corner. Despite the fact Jel is sitting with his popular friends and doesn't react to the cushion that comes flying at him, we know secretly, he is still up for a cushion fight.

"Look at him, pretending he isn't phased. Henry, shall I throw this big one?"

"We'll  both throw them. Wait, I'll go first."

Henry throws it and Jel pretends he isn't phased.  Zook then lobs one and Jel sits up and eye balls him.

"Do you mind you little shit?"

Zook just giggles and throws another one. Jel jumps up, makes his way across the foyer and tackles Zook to the ground and whacks with the pillow he has just thrown.

"Get him back Henry! Draw on his face!"

One of the Alvie girls throws him a pen and Henry tries to get pen on Jel's face who is viciously assaulting Zook with a pillow and I take one of the scarves from the bench and try and tie Jel's ankles together.

"Get off me TJ! You little-"

"Eh hem."

We all look up.  Well everyone else looks up. The four of us get up and sit on the bench.

"So what they say about this year group is true."

She eyeballs the five of us. She's maybe about five foot 8, wearing something very long and floaty with a short bob hair cut and a stern look of discontent on her face. She really doesn't want to be here and especially not with all of us.

" I'm Miss Nelson, your new year group leader."

She strides down foyer and we all sit up.

"Benedict. Can you please pass me the scarf?"

"This one?"

"Yes. The one you were trying to garrotte Jel with."

I pass to her and she drapes it around her neck.

"And yes, it is mine. Now, I have called you all here for a very important reason."

She begins to waffle on about something to do with a play. Zook gestures to Henry that he has something in his hair and if he wants him to get it out. Henry nods and on the other side of me, I can see Jel googling the definition of garrotte.

"Zachary, are you a chimpanzee?"

Zook stops trying to get whatever is in Henry's hair out. We all look at each other. Well...

"Then stop acting like one and leave Henry alone. God, it's like walking into a zoo."

"It's not a zoo I'm ever gonna come on a day out to." Jel mutters and we all giggle.

"This show. It is just year 11 and it is compulsory for all of you."

We all groan and she ignores it.

"You all need to be more creative and really let out those teenage emotions into some art. Art is a beautiful thing when done well and if all of you contribute, it should be a fantastic show..."

She continues to talk about drama mumbo-jumbo for a bit and that's when I notice two people sitting with Rome. Two people I've never seen before in my life. Newbies.

"Now I want to talk to each house individually. Arkansas, you can be first."

We follow her and she sits us down and I try to work out how long it will be before one of us does something stupid.

"Now Arkansas, are you all here?"

We nod.

"Wait, where is ummm..."

"Gwebe. It's pronounced Gweeb."

We wait for a moment.

"Well we'll just have to start without him. Now as you know, we're holding a year 11 cabaret.

The door swings open and Gwebe shuffles in.

"Ah so you have finally decided to join us."

He goes to sit down but Zook moves his chair and goes straight for the floor.

"I said a chair Gwebe."

He clambers in and sits there, arms  crossed and huddled into the chair.

"Now, each house will be expected to enter an act and we're also looking for two Compères."

"Err...Miss..."

"What Zachary?"

"What's a compare?"

"Somebody who presents the show." She explains.

"I'll do it." Jel says.

We all turn to look at him.

"Okay, auditions are on Friday afternoon."

"Seriously dude?" we ask and he nods.

"Why not?"

I can think of all the reasons why I wouldn't. But that's just me.

"So are you going to do an act or video?"

We look at each other.

"Video." Henry says.

She scribbles some notes down and then hands Jel a memory stick.

"This is for you to put your video on. You must not loose it.

"Now, go on your way and send in the boys from Gallagher."

We let Jel do that and then we all sit down in the corner of the foyer.

"Hey Arkansas."

We look up and a bunch of Alvie girls are all standing over us, the one who asked being called Felicity (I think.)

"Are you not going to talk to-" Jel asks but  Felicity (if that is her name) shakes her head.

"She's going to talk to us in house."

Then she sees me.

"Oh my god! You're Ben Middleton-Jones right?"

I nod.

"And you're Flick."

"Yup. I sure am."

We shake hands.

"And this is Elise, who is one out of two German girls in our year, this  is Nicola and you know India-Jane."

Nicola is dyed blond and quite buff in a sporty sense while Elise has very long flowing russet hair and is strikingly beautiful. I notice they don't introduce me to Abbie but I assume it's cause they know I sit next to her in chemistry. Nicola is texting animatedly but looks up when she hears her name and flicks her hair.

"Oh you don't need to introduce me to Ben," She says, crossing her legs.  "I've heard all about you. You remember Jennifer?"

Errr...how could I not?

"She was my roommate you see." Then she laughs very loudly and uncrosses her legs.

"She thought you were the most beautiful person in the room."

She laughs again. It's a very fake laugh, the kind that girls assume boys find attractive when actually after a bit, it slight reminds me of a harpie or my mother when she pretending to find something funny.

"Then why didn't you get with her?" Nicola asks, giving me a really accusing look. "You really missed out."

"It's complicated." Jel says, stepping in and saving me from having to explain the whole bet.  Jel is the focal point of both groups and because what he says always goes, the conversation about Jennifer fizzles out, like a bulb in a spotlight that was keeping me centre and has finally been switched off.

"So Henry, how is the horse riding going?" Nicola asks and I've had too much of a long day to try and bother working out how they know each other. Abandoned by Henry, Zook suddenly turns to Elise.

While Nicola does a lot of hair flicking and leg crossing, Elise just sits, like she has a book on her head or a rod down her back and with her hands folded in her lap; like a beautiful porcelain skinned sculpture. That's until Zook pokes her in the ribs and says with manic laugh:

"Hahaha, you and Gwebe are painting set!"

She smiles a very cheeky smile.

"Shut up! It's not funny!"

They start on some in jokes so I decided to join in with Jel.

"And Flick, you and Akash huh?" Jel is saying, draping an arm around Flick's shoulder and she goes bright red and nods.

"I had to ask him out. I was getting too impatient waiting for him to do it."

Flick then laughs and continues to go red at the memory.

"You guys are the cutest couple. We just have to find someone for India now." Jel says, leaving back with his head behind his hands.

"Well I know someone who'd be fantastic for India." I chime in and they all turn to look at me, as if I've just fallen through from the sky or something.

"Who TJ?"

"Yeah, go on, you can tell us."

"Well he's tall, very tall in fact-"

"Thinks he's good looking-" Zook adds. "And really charming."

"When actually he's a real twat." Henry finishes with a smirk. Jel does not look impressed at all.  But he never gets a chance to reply. The door to the theatre swings open and the Gallagher boys coming strutting out and we are immediately approached by Akash, Flick's Indian boyfriend.

"Hey Arkansas, hey girls." He says and sits down next to Flick but he won't stop continually shifting and drumming his fingers on the seat. I suppose sitting with the scariest boy in the year and his band of loyal weirdos as well as a group of fiercely protective  girls who still see him as maybe a bit too nerdy, he's clearly a bit out of his comfort zone. Akash continues to drum his fingers and it gets faster and faster and none of us want to get on the wrong side of Flick by telling him to stop. Well all of us is apart from Jel who is leaning back with his hands behind his head. I don't think Jel is afraid of anyone. He makes direct eye contact with Akash.

"Look Akash, can you please just stop with the drumming? It's driving everybody here insane."

He obeys instantly and his shoulders slump. Flick puts an arm around his shoulders and their back in their own little bubble.

 "Wait, is that Ivy James?"

We all turn to look at her. And by that I mean the whole room. Ivy James has let herself in through the foyer doors and is completely oblivious to the fact that all the eyes of the room are on her.

"Wait, isn't that Gwebe's girl?"

We all nod.  The Alvie girls just look so confused.

"Are we missing something?"

Jel throws his head back and laughs.

"Oh you have no idea."

He throws a coy look at Valerie. They really don't. There is a tinkle of some kind of music and we all jump up. An ice cream has pulled up outside. Of course. It's a Sunday afternoon and possibly the only exciting thing that happens. There is a stampede and of course we end up at the back of the queue. The sugar makes Zook even hyper than usual and that afternoon after our meeting in the theatre, I don't even remember what we did. I just remember laughing all the way back to Arkansas. We have to go to check in Mr H as soon as we get back and as soon as we've checked in, Zook changes in his trousers and Brad goes to see Lulu. Then we sign out in the book of lies that we're 'going for a walk' and we have a cigarette.  At five o'clock, we check in again and each order a kebab to have after dinner. It's a pretty average Sunday. Apart from when Zook accidentally pissed on the road  cause he was laughing so much. But that's another story.

We go into dinner, sign out with border control aka. Mr H and meet Elise and a few other Alvie girls in the queue. Jel of course gossips with India and Nicole and Henry talk about horses and that kind of thing. Zook goes to queue for pasta and so I'm left to talk to Elise.

"So, how are you?" I ask.

"I'm good. What about you?"

"Fine. God, I hate all of theze controlled assessments. I just vant to paint and zhat's ze one zing they von't let me do."

"I know right. Its so stupid."

There's an awkward pause in the conversation. I fidget while she twiddles with her hair.

"So whereabouts are you from in Germany?"

"Bavaria. I live in ze country and it is so very... vhat's the vord..."

"Scenic? Lush?"

"I do know vhat those vords mean. I vas going to say zhat it is very good to paint. My mama wanted to move into Munich wiz her new..."

She struggles for the word.

"Not lover...more than that..."

"Boyfriend?"

"Ya but I zaid no. I couldn't leave my house or Hans."

"TJ!"

"Who is Hans?"

"Are you coming to sit with us you Moron or what?"

"I have to go. Great chatting to you Elise."

"You too Ginger boy."

I wonder who Hans is whether he is a sibling or a lover or simply a friend. I wonder if he is the equivalent of Elliot. Then that subconscious voice says:

"Ah but she couldn't leave Hans. You left Elliot."

"What's up TJ?" Zook asks. It's just three of us as Brad hasn't shown up with Lulu yet and Jel is sitting with his various other friends.

"Oh nothing."

I know Zook isn't convinced.

"You're being usually quiet. In fact both of you are."

Henry looks up from his phone and runs a hand aggressively through his hair. I sprinkle salt over my lamb kofta and then pass it to Zook.

"Sorry. Shit kicking off at home on our WhatsApp group.  I think the day when I have to stop being the family rescuer will never come."

"Actually Henry, can you pass me your phone?"

"Why?"

"Just pass it here."

Henry reluctantly passes it over and Zook puts in the pocket of his blazer.

"There. Now you can stop worrying."

Henry folds him arms across his chest. Then I realise as I do everyday, I forgot to get the one thing I crave most.

"I'm gonna get some salt, do either of you losers want anything?"

"No thanks. That salt isn't good for you TJ..."

I give him two fingers and go and get salt and that when I see those Newbies again.

!Hey guys, don’t all look at once but I spy a newbie.” I say as I sit down. Zook and Henry both turn instantly.

“Wait where?”

“That guy, with the shaved bit on his head. The one who looks like a total ned.”

We all turned and look.

“Doesn’t he look like a right tosser?”

“Totally.”

 “Hey, can I umm… sit here?

We all turned around. A guy who was obviously a) new b) not in Arkansas c) terrified d) and e) knows nobody  is standing at our table.

Looked like I was going to be the one speaking.

“Yeah sure. Go for it.”  I gave him my best smile and he sat down right on the edge.

“Hey, come and sit round here.” Zook gestures to the seat next to him and he sits down, hunched over his food.

“So what’s your name?” Zook asks the new kid.

“August. But most people just call me Augie."

My turn.

“Whereabouts are you from?” .

“Cambridge. You?”

“Yorkshire.”

 “Nice place. But how come you don’t have an accent?”

“Everyone asks me that. When I was a kid I had such a strong Yorkshire accent but when I came here it started to fade.”

“When you started it was quite strong.”

“Thanks for that.”

“Wait are you in Gallagher?” Henry asks, leaning back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest.

“Yeah. I just thought I’d come and sit with you guys because you looked easier to talk to.” He referenced to the lad table.

"Well it's nice to meet you." Henry says with a half smile.

"Wait, you know India right?"

He nods.

"Apparently one of the reason she hates me is because I remind her of someone she hates. If you knew who, I'd love to know what this person has done so wrong to be like me and also to be India's sworn enemy."

Augie takes a really good at Henry.

" Oh my god. She's right. There's someone. Oh my god, who is it..."

"Brad alert." Zook mutters.

"No he doesn't remind of anyone I know called Brad..." Augie mutters.

"Dude, it's fine. Just if you remember."

"Hey guys." Brad says and Lulu just looks terrified.

"Hey." We all say practically in sync. He sits down and then sees Augie.

"Augie, how are you doing?"

Augie sits up a bit.

"I'm okay."

"Wait, how do you guys know each other?"

"We met in the dinner queue."

None of us are convinced.

"Lulu, you've met Augie right?"

"Oh yes, we've met before, haven't we?"

"Yup."

Something has changed on the table.  I can't tell what it is but there's an underlying tension that wasn't here five minutes ago.  I mean, I like Augie. He's shy, nice and pretty genuine it seems. I've absolutely nothing against but there is something between him and Lulu. I have no idea what though.

"I'm gonna have a hot chocolate, do you want one sweety?" Brad asks and Lulu nods.

"Yes please, thank you honey."

As soon as he disappears, we all look over at Lulu.

"Shall we tell you funny stories about Brad?"

Zook and Henry look at each other. Then they laugh in sync.

"At the end of year 9, Brad came for a taster session for three days and one of the days happened to be when we had a whole house leaving dinner for Mr Birlas, our previous housemaster. Then we came back and because he was an alcoholic, he gave us a glass of wine and we had a toast." Zook begins. "We'd had some wine at dinner and because he kept giving it to the sixthform after we had the toast, they started giving it to us because we were sitting nearest them.

"And Brad of course was a fucking lightweight so after about six glasses, he was all over the place. He ran outside and-"

Henry adds but has to stop because he is laughing so much, as is everyone else.

"He tried to make out with a bin lid and he kept yelling 'I love Angela, I want to get with her! I want to get with Angela-"

I've never seen Lulu laugh so much.

"Oh shit, he's coming."

We all contain our laughter. I can actually imagine Brad doing that, after a few glasses.

"What have I missed?"

"We're sharing funny stories." Henry tells him with a straight face.

Brad smiles and hands Lulu her hot chocolate.

"Oh yeah. They're about all you." Zook adds.

"Me?"

"Yes Bradley Higgins. You." I say.

"Oh god no, no, come on guys..."

"So you and Angela huh?"

We break into shrieks of laughter.

"Oh come on guys, that's not fair. Seriously?"

"Oh there are many others." Henry says, wiping his eyes.

"Do you remember in the first week of year 10, when we decorated your room with millions of the same picture of her that we found on the school website? You can back and she was all you could see, all over your room."

"I remember all right, trust me. I kept finding them for months."

Zook and Henry high five and keep laughing.

"Shall we go to the comm?" I ask and they all agree.

"Sure."

Zook, Henry and I make a quick getaway and Augie tags along.  We go into the Comm which is a year 11 privilege and has two rooms, one for Ping-Pong and watching TV and one with leather sofas and a stereo where someone is blaring crap music. It's very crowded, with everyone in their little cliques sprawled over the leather sofas and its stinks of damp and sweat. Everyone stares at us as we walk in and go and sit on the two spare sofas in the corner. Jel is sitting with his girls and Lance on the opposite side of the room and raises his eyebrows at us.

"Whose that?" Augie asks.

"That's Jel. He's in our house too."

"Really?"

"Yeah. He's not actually like that at all." Henry explains as  Zook is signals something to Jel in some sort of weird sign language.

"What did you ask him?"

"When he wants to go back to house."

Jel signals something back and Zook bursts into a snort of laughter. It's one of their many many injokes that nobody can remember the origin of.

"What is it?"

"Oh Henry. You remember the donkey and the waffle."

Henry bursts into laughter.

"I think it was more of a damn it Sheila moment."

They both continue laughing.

"Oh Screwdinger."

Augie and I just sit there like lemons. This is pretty much what our Facebook messenger group consists of and I can't wait till oneday I will finally understand.

"Care to explain?" I ask.

"Another time TJ, another time. Can you go over and tell Jel we've gone fishing and will be back in five?"

I obey and go over and tell him which makes him jump up and come storming over.

"You're a little shit Zook-"

Then he see's Augie. The way Jel looks at Augie is the way Jel once stared down at me. That feeling you’re about to shit enough bricks to build a sandcastle that actually stays up.

“Who the fuck are you?”

Augie looks so terrified.

“Augie.”

“You’re not in Arkansas? Are you?”

“No.” he squeaks.

“Dude. Enough.”

Zook puts a hand on his chest and sits him down.

“ I can go if you want. I just didn’t have anywhere to sit and you guys were the only approachable ones.”

“No don’t go. Jel is just being a prick.”

“I’m not being a prick.”

“You are.”

They probably would have argued all day if the door hadn't been slammed so hard and Rome hadn't come strutting in, followed by some really chavvie looking punk with half a really shaved head and the other half long and floppy a lot of piercings in both ears, his lips, his nose and his eyebrow. I think he's also wearing eyeliner and he seems like the type of guy who would dye his hair crazy colours and blare My Chemical Romance really loudly, convinced he's the next Fall out boy or Billie Joe Armstrong.  He just looks at all of us clean cut posh kids in our blazers and styled hair and shiny shoes.  We all just stare.

"What are you all looking at?"

Rome  just skulks in the corner and lets this stupid looking punk take centre stage.

"Have you never seem someone different before? Someone not like all of you?"

"Oh hello. Aren't you a little beauty?" He says, approaching Lulu.  He stretches a hand towards her face, as if to run a knuckle down her cheek.  Lulu looks up dolefully and watches him tentatively for a moment. Then he hand flicks up and grasps his wrist tightly.

"Don 't you dare touch me."

Then he sees Jel staring.

"What are you looking at?"

"Not you, that's for sure."

Zook whispers something to him and Jel stifles a laugh.

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing."

"You're Jel aren't you?"

Jel nods.

"I thought so. I've heard all about you and your band of loyal freaks."

He turns around and all the Alvie girls are looking at him. He eyeballs India.

"Which one of you is Akash's bitch?"

Like a bunch of cats who've just been provoked, all their haunches goes up. India get's up and faces up to him.

"I think you'll find Tris-"

She raises her hand as if to slap him but Jel jumps to catch her wrist when it's behind her head and holds it there. He whispers something to her.

"we're nobody's bitches."

And with that, they get up and all disseapear out of the comm.

"Come, let's go." Jel mutters and we get up to go. Then Tris turns back to us. Oh great.

He eyeballs Henry.

"Have we met before?"

"No trust me, I would remember you." Henry says, turning away but Tris grabs him by the shoulder.

"You remind me too much of somebody I hate."

I notice India's eyes flicker towards Henry and then towards Tris. Then she exits with the Alvie girls.

"This won't be the last time we speak." Tris says and then shoves Henry back towards us.

"Tris! For fucks sake!"

We all turn around. Augie has got up from his chair and Tris turns to him.

"What now Augie? Standing up for your new little friends eh?"

Augie squares up to him

"Just quit it! For Christs sake! Are you trying to humiliate us? We've been here for less than 3 and half days!"

Tris doesn't retort.

"Just leave it alright! You may not want to have a fresh start here but at least let me have one!"

The whole room is now on edge as to find out what it going on.

"We made them a promise Tris-"

"No Augs, you made Mum and Dad a promise not me. I plan on doing precisely what I please."

"Fine. You do that. And leave me out of it."

Woah. Mindfog. Augie get's up and storms out. We follow but go in the opposite direction back to Arkansas in silence. Jel is furious because we've befriended Augie, Henry is completely shaken by Tris and Zook is also furious because Tris had the nerve to threaten Henry. But we're not the only ones completely unnerved by him. But it wasn't Tris who was the turning point in Arkansas. It wasn't because of Tris, things disintegrated they did. I don't know who's fault it was. But after they showed up, everything as I knew it, changed.







Chapter 8: American Idiot

It began on Sunday Night. It's about 10:15 and our lights are supposed to be out but the lights out person hasn't been up to put us to bed yet.

"TJ, I'm just gonna facetime my mom, you don't mind do you?" Jel asks, taking off his Beat headphones.

"No."

 He unlocks his iPad and checks his emails.

"Oh my god. TJ. Holy shit."

Jel jumps up. I also sit up.

"What?"

"I need to go and get Zook!"

He bangs on the wall.

"Get yourself in here right now Zook! It's urgent!"

Zook comes tearing in.

"Check your emails." Jel says breathlessly.

Zook logs in on Jel's Ipad.

"Oh my god. No."

What the heck is going on?

"I can't open it."

Of course. It will be from Allborough. Henry and Brad come crashing in.

"You have to Zook."

"Wait what is it?" Henry asks, sitting on the bed next to Zook. This is the point where I feel myself hunch up and I start to fidget with one of my pens. I know Jel was the better tennis player but what if Jel gets in and Zook doesn't. I picture it in my head. It would ruin everything.

"It's from Allborough Academy." Jel says and something in Henry's face changes.  He tenses up while his eyes widen.  It's a look I saw too often flick across Elliot's face. Fear. None of us want to loose Jel and Zook but Brad has Lulu and I don't even know if I'm staying next year. If Henry lost them, he truly would be alone.

"I can't. If I open it and I haven't got in...This is all I've worked for. I can't go back to Newcastle. Not now."

"Please. Just open it. It's killing us."

He clicks on it. This is one of those moments there is a before and an after. As Zook's facial expression changes, the before becomes like a bubble blown with washing up liquid during those long hot summers as a kid.

"Jel. Oh my god. I've got in. I've got a second audition."

He brings a hand up to his face and instead of jumping for joy, he's look's like he's about to cry.

We wait for it to hit him.  The bubble that was before this moment takes off.

"I got in!"

He jumps up as does Jel.

"No Zook. We got in."

I've never seen Zook anything but playful and up for fun. Seeing him like this,  I actually feel very emotional.

"Come on Man. You know what you need." Jel says and then out of the blue, they hug in a very bromance like way.

 Brad and I both congratulation him in turn but the only person who isn't happy for him is Henry. I think this is the one thing he didn't want. The bubble of before drifts out of the window and out into the night. We'll never see it again.

Jel told me afterwards that he was more relieved that Zook got it then he did because he'll so many other oppurtunities but cruelly as it sounds, Zook might not and Jel said he could never forgive himself if he stole one of his best friend's dreams. It takes 2 hours for it to spread around the whole year and Jel get's all the attention which he secretly loves.  Ten days later, we've just finished making our music video for the cabaret and we are on our way to dinner. It's been ten days of lessons, assemblies, and up and down the stairs in Arkansas. So. Much. Border control. It's an endless monotony of activities and teachers talking about controlled assessments and long afternoons in the theatre, all to the sound of American Idiot which Jel plays at least seven or eight times a day.

"So, am I editing it?" Jel asks and we all nod.

"Sweet."

"God, I can't believe I have to go into dinner like this." Henry says, tugging at his red braces.

"Henry, at least you don't have a girlfriend to worry about."

We do like a sight. Jel and Zook had the really good idea of white shirts, red braces and red chinos. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

"Oh yes, it's fish and chip Friday." Zook says as we walk in.

"Zook, it's fish and chips every Friday in case you haven't noticed."

"Ugly, I don't think he has,

 "-considering he says it every Friday." I add in after Jel. We queue up and everyone keeps giving us that look.  We get our food and we are fully aware the whole year are watching us and thinking how stupid we look.

"Okay, who feels like an idiot."

"Christ Henry, stop moaning. Do you want some water?"

"Yes please."

"Wait, I'll come and get it with you."

"Oh cheers Brad."

That leaves just the three of us.

"Oh shit, I forgot ketchup. Do you guys want anything?"

"Tartare sauce please." Henry says and Jel disappears. I lean over to Henry.

"You okay?"

"Yeah I'm fine."

"You sure?"

He spears a chip.

"TJ. I'm fine okay?"

Okay. I was just trying to be nice.

"Here's the water." Jel says as Zook and him sit back down.

"Oh my god Henry. It's been two years today." Zook says excitedly, stealing one of Jel's chips. "Let me see your hand."

Henry lies his left palm flat on the table and there's a scar across it, just under an inch long. Jel suddenly bursts into a howl of laughter.

"I don't know what was more funny; Zook's face when he realised what he'd done or Henry's face when he realised it was Zook."

"Or your face Jel when we took Henry along the corridor to Birlas and ended up spending 7 hours in Aberdeen A&E.

Mr Birlas was the housemaster before Mr H.

"So wait Zook, you stabbed him?"

"Well that's one of putting it-"

"Henry, it was an accident, remember!"

"Hey, can we sit with you guys?"

We look out and I swear all the Alvie girls are standing over us. Lulu immediately squashes in next to Brad and we all move up to make space.

"Well like check you guys out." Nicola says, running a finger down one of Jel's braces.  He barely acknowledges her.

"Were you filming your video?" Flick asks. We all nod.

"Zat is so cool. Ve haven't even thought about vhat ve're doing."

"No Elise we have-"

"We just can't, like,  do it without arguing.

"Well, Jel, my favourite American, I have a favour I need to ask you." India says, leaning back in her chair. Jel drapes an arm around her shoulders.

"Shall we?"

"Yeah."

They go up to get water and leave us all sitting slightly awkardly. Brad and Lulu are in the corner, feeding each other chips, kinda like the seagulls do on Filey beach. Next to them is Nicola, then two empty seats that did belong to Jel and India and on the other side of that is Abbie, who is eating her haddock quietly and not saying anything at all.  Flick who is next to her is completely ignoring her and much more interested in discussing her love life with Elise but I think is hoping Abbie will bugger off so Akash can come and sit there. Then there's the three of us Arkansas boys, all quite squashed in and wishing Brad and Lulu would hold off on the PDA cause it's making us all feel a bit ill.The girls start talking about homework, their house mistress who they hate, music, films and just general shit. 

"Sorry about that." Jel says, striding back to the table and leaning back in his chair. India sits down next to him and starts ravenously eating her chips.

"Nicola, India, you told Mrs Allpress that we weren't going to back for housemeeting didn't you?" Flick says. India-Jane and Nicola look at each other.

"We like, signed out in the book, like." Nicola says.

"Oh shit, she's gonna be really angry, again." Flick says, spearing a chip. "I hate that women. Oh my god, she makes me so angry."

"Now, ladies, ladies-" India says, imitating Mrs Allpress.

"No India, don't you dare! Please."

"Why do you hate her?"

The mention of Mrs Allpress has made them all seeth. I've never met her but I know she has just arrived and brought about a lot of change.

"We'll each give you a reason." India says. "I seriously dislike her because she's had the walls painted lilac. Fucking lilac. I feel like we're in some asylum or something. She's also put in all these stupid fire doors so when they are slammed shut, the whole corridor shakes."

"Also, like-" Nicola adds. "she doesn't let us like, go out for a run before breakfast, like, how am I supposed to keep fit. She also refers to us like, all as a 'big family, like. Enough said."

Lulu looks up and comes out of her little bubble with Brad.

"I know who this is. I don't like her cause she doesn't like Brad. And anyone who has a new boyfriend has to go and introduce themselves to her. God, that was excruciating."

"You think it was bad? My dad thought it was the funniest thing ever. He want's to it introduce it."

We look at each other.

"Oh god. Brad please try and persuade him not to." Henry says.

"Don't see that would bother you Henry." India says. "You're so-"

"Look India. I'm sorry I made a sexist comment two years. I know it was bad and I'm sorry. I don't want to be your enemy so can you please tell the other reasons you hate me so much?"

India runs a hand through her hair.

"Ok. I accept your apology. But I don't think I can ever really like you. You remind me of someone I hate."

"Who?"

"Just someone I used to know. We were enemies and you remind me a lot of her."

That's the stupidest reason ever.

"Like really, you're so much like her and it makes me hate you."

"Hey, can I sit here."

"Oh hey Augie. Yeah sure." I say and we start to make space but Brad and Lulu get up to go.

"We were just going. You can sit here if you want."

"Cheers Brad. Does anyone want some water?"

We all shake our heads. As Brad and Lulu leave in the opposite direction to Brad, Lulu and Augie share the briefest of eye contact but as they claim to 'not know each other', there's suddenly something not right.

"Augie, you remember Sasha right?" India says.

"Yeah of course I do."

"Of course you do. Good old Sash the rash. Doesn't Henry remind you of her?"

Augie takes a good long look.

"Oh my god. You're so right. I see it."

"Who is she?" Henry asks,

"You wouldn't know her." India replies very coldly. Flick turns to Lulu and Brad.

"So how is your band coming along, love birds?"

I'd forgotten Lulu and Brad have formed a band.

"It's a quartet." Brad corrects her. Oops. My mistake. "Lulu plays the cello, I play the piano or a little like box drum, Smith plays the double bass and Lexie plays the violon."

Smith is the best musician in the year and one of the best in school. The reason Smith has that nickname is because all lots of the Chinese students who come here like to choose themselves a British nickname so don't worry, he does have a real name.

"That's an interesting mix of people-" Henry says, being all cynical as usual.

"Smith is so funny and so musically talented. He's going to audition for the conservatoire in London and we think he'll definetely get it." Lulu says.

 "I'd rather have him in Arkansas over Gwebe any day."

Augie stands up.

"Hey Augie if you're going that way, could you get  me a napkin please?" India asks and Augie reluctantly agrees. We all watch him go.

"There is something really weird going on." India says, lowering her voice.

"What do you mean?"

"God you Arkansas boys, do you not notice anything? Brad is even in your house for crying out loud."

"Wait, India, explain everything."

"Okay, hang on, there's something you should know. Akash told me Rome is out for some sort of revenge-" Flick interrupts.

"Hey Flick."

"Akash, hey, there's a spare seat here."

She gives Abbie the -move-out-the-way look so Abbie moves next to where Augie is sitting and maybe a bit too close to Zook for our liking.

"God, it's like bloody Waterloo station." Henry mutters and we all snigger.

"Okay India, so Lulu and Augie claim not to know each other and yet they message each other all the time, they occasionally skype-" Flick adds but trails off as Akash starts stroking her.

"Didn't she go out to meet him vonce?" Elise says, running a hand through her hair.

"What the heck is going on?" Akash asks.

"I thought like, that was Tris she went to meet, like?"

"No Nicola, I'm sure it was Augie. Tris was the one she skyped."

"You're all wrong."

"Seriously, what's going on?"

We all shoosh him and turn to look at Abbie.

"You all have no idea what's going on.  She went to meet Rome."

We look at each other.

"Okay. Well there's definitely something else going on."

"Wait, you mean she's cheating on Brad?" I ask.

"Vell obviously-"

"There's like, no other explanation."

Flick beckons for us to lean in.

"Now Akash, don't ask what is going on.  You're on our side, okay?"

He nods.

"So this is the plan."

2 minutes later, Augie comes back and we all go back to whatever we were talking about. Eventually we all go to drama but we excuse ourselves from the girls for a moment.

We go up behind the theatre and sit on the wall on the very edge of campus.

"Jesus, Brad and Lulu were all over each other." Jel says, lighting a cigarette.

"I know right, it was crazy." Henry agrees, also lighting one. Jel passes his to Zook.

"I think Nicola really wants to get with you Jel." Zook says and Jel sighs heavily.

"She just won't give me a break. I mean she's hot and all but if I get with her, then things will get very complicated in Alvie."

"Why?" I ask as Henry passes me his cigarette and I take a long drag,

"Girls seem to have  a rule that they don't get with each other's serious exes. And as well as the fact that in 2 years, I have got with Elise, India has become one of my best friends and Flick was my most serious girlfriend. if I go out with Nicola then it will get complicated. Very complicated.

"And I mean, if Brad and Lulu had an awful break up in a years time, none of us would get with her right?" Henry.

That's a good point.

"That's why you don't like Akash, isn't it?" Zook says, stubbing out his cigarette.

"Yeah, I just find it weird seeing him and Flick so in love when I remember when that was us and the fact she was my first kiss...it's freaky man. It's even worse now they've started sitting with us."

"What about Val? Didn't you guys-"

"Second serious girlfriend TJ. That was this time a year ago. God. What a trainwreck. Just don't go there TJ.  Just don't go there."

I stub out my cigarette and light another.

"Ok Zook, let's see if we can name Jel's girlfriends. There was Flick for like 6 months, then there was that Dara girl-"

"Oh my god Henry, there was that G&T when we dared Jel to get with six people!"

Zook and Henry laugh loudly.  Jel puts his head in his hands.

"Did you?" I ask Jel."Get with six different people?"

"Of course I did TJ! I'm the coolest kid in the year!" He says sarcastically and then laughs.

"I'll list them of for you guys." Jel says, lighting another cigarette.  "In the first 2 weeks of year 9 I got with Flick, Val, Celine, Lutra and Elise. Then I got back with Flick for six months. Then  after Flick and I broke up was three girls in the year above at a G&T at a end of year 9; Tessa, Rosie and Meera. Then there was Val. I won't go there. Then there was that infamous G&T when I got with Celine, Lutra, Elise, Dara who was in the year above, Kat and Hayley to prove to Val we are never getting back together. Then was Georgia in Alabama who has my virginity and finallty Megan and I were seeing each other last April. We broke up just before you arrived TJ."

Jesus fucking christ.

"And you wonder why people called you 'the school bicycle." Zook says, taking a cigeratte from Henry and blowing smoke rings.

"Now I look back, I realise that I really have ridden everyone."

All three of them laugh. I still can't believe that been around like that and get away with it.

"But Jel, did you love any of these people?"

"God know. I only found them hot in that moment. Shall we go in?"

"Yeah let's." we agree in sync and stub out our cigarettes.

 

 

 

20 minutes later, we're sitting in the kitchen, waiting to talk to Miss Nelson and pretending to drink some really crap tea Jel made.

"How's the tea?" Jel asks and Brad and I nod.

"It's interesting..." I say, taking a tiny sip.

"Yeah it's not bad."

It's basically a cup of hot water with some dodgy smelling milk.

"Is there any more sugar?" Henry asks.

Jel throws him a sachet.   Zook comes crashing back in from the toilet or wherever he's been and takes a massive sip.

"Oh good god! That's disgusting Jel. What did you put in this?"

"Not bad eh?"

The door bangs open and Flick is standing there.

"Hey Arkansas. Mrs Nelson wants you."

We leave our mugs and hastily go through to the theatre where she is waiting in the doorway.

Ah Arkansas, in here please."  Miss Nelson  says, ushering us in.

"Now I'm just making sure you have the memory stick."

We look at each other.

"Yeah it's in Arkansas." Jel says with as much conviction as he can.

"Good good. Can you pass it onto the girls in Wildfell when you're done?"

"Sure."

"And Jel you're okay with being one of the Compère?"

He nods.

"Great well off you go then and send in the Wildfell girls."

As soon we're out and back in the kitchen, we all turn to look at Jel.

"You have idea where the memory stick is, do you?" Brad asks accusingly.

"Woah, this is not my fault. I did not have it last-"

"Hey."

We look up and Augie is in the doorway.

"Did you follow us here?" Jel asks. Augie shrinks and shakes his head.

"We all saw you go in so I thought I would..."

Jel has his arms crossed across his chest and is leaning against the kitchen counter, staring Augie down. I stand up.

"Dude! Enough! Just let him be!"

Zook and Henry stop their chattering and Brad and Lulu who are just coming through the doorway pause. Jel just stares at me. Nobody stands up to Jel. The last person  who did that was Brad and we all gave him the silent treatment for almost three months.

"Excuse me?"

"Just lay it off. What has he ever done to you?"

"Augie, Lulu, could you give us a moment?"

They scuttle off.

"Tell me TJ, why do you care so much for him, after I've done, all we've done for you? Why are you choosing him over us?"

"Christ Jel!"

I bang down my mug.

"Have a heart why don't you? I'm not switching sides or choosing anyone over anyone. Standing in the doorway, always on the outside looking in, not belonging anywhere?  do you know what that's like?"

Jel squares up to me.

"Don't lecture me Ben Middleton Jones,  about not belonging anywhere."

The door opens and Rome struts in with Tris.

"Oh, tensions are high in here. Shame, I thought you were all best friends for life or whatever gay motto you freaks live by."

Jel turns to Rome, towering over him with his shoulders back, his hands on his hips and making unfocused,  unblinking eye contact.

"This is none of your business Rome."

Rome is only 5 ft 6 and practiculary bouncing on his heels for a fight. He puts a finger on Jel's chest, well as far up as he can reach. 

"Oh Jel, I think you'll find it is."

"Give me one reason Rome, why this is anything to do with you."

His gaze flickers across to Brad and then to Zook.

"I know things Jel; desires, dreams, deadly secrets-"

"What do you know?"

Rome doesn't say anything.

"What do you know Rome? Don't make me repeat myself. Tell me, are you out to get revenge? Is that what you're not telling me?"

Something flickers across Rome's face and he clenches his fists. I can see Jel's knuckles also going white as he stays in put in his dominant stance. There's a large crowd gathered around.

"Oh Jel. You have no idea. Tell me, did you know that Ivy James has gone? She left school because of you-"

"I don't know  what you're playing at Rome, but if you hurt any-"

Jel grabs Rome and shoves him up against the wall by his collar and his feet can't touch the ground.

"any of my friends, then you better be digging two graves."

Out of the nowhere, the crowd parts and Jel is wrenched off Rome and thrown back onto the floor. Tris and Big Al look down at him on the floor and he scrambles up to maintain his dignity. Everyone in the crowd would back Jel in a fight anyday. Most of our year would love to see Rome beaten to a pulp one day.

"Oh Jel, but I'm not the one who's going to buried alive."

And with that he disappears out the door with Tris in tow. We all look at each other. Jel is still very angry with me, that's for sure and Zook and Henry are most definitely on Jel's side and Brad doesn't know who to choose.

"Come on Zook, we need to pack."

The three of them storm out, leaving Brad, Lulu and Augie and I. Then it becomes Augie and I. 

"Ben, can you help me learn my lines?

Across the misty October sky, a pheasant , startled by the presence of ten trained guns dogs, takes off against the wind and I watch it down the barrel of my shotgun. Any higher and I can't shoot it because it would only cause injury or a cruel lingering death. I pull back the trigger and the bird goes crashing onto the heath, only to be caught in the mouth of one of the gun dogs.

"Good shot old boy!" My uncle Anthony booms, handing a brace of pheasants which I sling over my shoulder. "Roderick could never of done that when he was your age but mind you, he was too busy being expelled to do much else!"

Uncle Anthony brays with laughter and I nervously laugh too. I search in the pocket of my tweed  jacket to see if I have any cigarettes and I have one but I decide to save that for later, when Uncle Anthony or any of his stupid friends are not around. There's about 30 of us on this shoot and we're shooting Grouse tommorow and then stalking deer after that. I'm not very good at shooting but I'm the only one out of my cousins who Uncle Anthony likes so I kind of have to.

I'm casually adjusting the string of the braces of pheasants when I look up and realise that I'm surronded by a bunch of people who I barely know and are intent on asking me lots of questions.

So you live in Filey I believe?” Stanley, my Uncle’s work colleague asks

I nod.

“Do you know the Hilton-Mackintoshes?”

I’ve had this all the time while I’ve been here. In Filey, there’s a middle-class social circle of my parents and their friends and as soon as I let on that I’ve grown up on the edge of this circle, you get all these random posh people asking me if I’ve met the so-and-so’s. Yes I’ve met them. No we don’t go the same school. Yes they’re nice people (lie, unless you like a bit of North Yorkshire middle-class snobbery)

“Yes they’re good friends with my parents.”

“So you went to school in Filey did you?” His son, Cedric is a posh wanker and is good friends with Roderick. They both give me stick because I went to state school.

“Yes.”

“I can see why you left. When I was little, my Mummy wouldn’t let me play with those kind of children.”

He genuinely said that, word for word. I know right?

“Neither would mine.” Roderick agrees. That’s one of the reasons Mum and Aunt Collete don’t get on. They have a different view of class and schooling.

I think of Elliot.

“Where do you go now?”

“St Richmond College.”

Stanley snorts.

“St Richmond College? Really?”

I nod.

“The most unacademic school with the highest rate of bullying. Rodders, did you see that show that they took around last year?”

“Yes. Oh my god, it was the gayest thing ever.”

I don’t know what to say.

“God, those sorts of places will accept any old riff-raff.”

I would have punched Cedric but then I hear a voice I've dreaded hearing for a long time.

"Oh hello Ben. Long time no see."

I turn around and my cousin Steph is looking me up and down. I haven't seen Steph since I was about 12 and she looks exactly like she did then, just without such bad teeth.

"Hi."

She flicks her straightened blond hair.

"Steph, who would you rather marry? Someone like Cedric or someone like him?" Roderick asks. Steph is his twin and his equal in every way.   She looks at Cedric, the epitome of 'good breeding' and narrow mindness me and then she looks back at me; the cousin she always looked down on because I once put a snail on her arm to her the difference in pace on different surfaces.

"I do have a boyfriend Rodders, but if I had to choose.  Definetely Ced. You may look innocent my dear cousin but I know you're a heart breaker deep down. And I was always warned against hanging around with boys like you.'

As if fate intervenes, when I get back to school, Henry has a new favourite song; Boys like you by some band called 360. Even as the weeks go by, I hear her voice in my head.

"I was always warned against hanging around with boys like you."

"and that was his response?"

Augie nods and wipes the tears from his eye. 

"I haven't laughed so much until he said that!"

"I don't think I've laughed so much until you told me.

I get up from the Alcove we're sitting in and stretch.

"Wait Ginger, have you done the history prep?"

Crap.

"I'm going to do it tomorrow. I've looked at it, I just haven't actually started it."

"Of course you have Ginger."  He slaps me on the back. "Of course you have. Shall we go and get another hot dog?"

"Yeah let's."

We go and queue for a hot dog with what feels like the rest of the whole school.

"Wait Augs, are you free on Sunday? We need to finish our film."

"Sure. You have it on your Netflix don't you?"

"Yup."

He's about to say something else when we both see a group of Alvie girls from our year.

"I've just got to go and talk to India. I'll be back in a minute."

A minute becomes ten and I guess he's not coming back. I get my next hot dog and wander away from the Quad and towards where the crowd are watching the fireworks.

"Do you have to eat your hot dog like that? It's disgusting and really making me feel sick."

I turn around and this girl is looking at me eating my hot dog with my fingers with a look of complete revulsion.

"What? I took too much ketchup and it's really difficult to eat."

"Well it's disgusting."

I take a good look at her. Of course.  She's the girl I saw at the Valentine's ball, with the backless dress and the blue streaks in her hair. Oh my god it's umm...what's her name...Ivy James's friend...

"You have no idea what my name is do you?"

I shake my head. She just looks at me.

"So clearly we haven't met before. Let me see; hand me down Barbour, chinos, styled hair, a winning and practised cheeky smile.  You walk with a strut yet you're loitering here and you have a slight Yorkshire hint to your accent and you're aloof yet friendly enough to introduce yourself to me."

She stays silent for a moment.

"Only in Arkansas."

"Okay, my go. Long plait so trying not to be conventional, piercings to defy school rules, a goddam huge tattoo to make a statement and a lot of jewelerry which obviously have a lot of sentimental value. You hate the way I eat which shows that you had a much posher upbringing than me and the compass necklace shows that you are a wanderer and you hate staying in one place."

I wait for a moment. Then it comes to me. Of course. I know exactly what she's called.

"Only Thuglife."

She picks up my fork and throws it at me, splattering ketchup all down my Barbour.

"That's NOT my name!"

"Then what is it?"

She throws my napkin and my knife at me.

"Jay!"

Seriously?

"Sorry. I really am. I didn't mean to offend you. Can you stop throwing things at me?"

She stops and suddenly looks really sheepish.

"Sorry. It's just because my best friend has gone and I don't know what to do without her."

This time, I feel the guilt creep up on me.

"Have we met before?"

She just looks at me.

"I am in two of your classes. No, three."

Really?

"Seriously? Which ones?"

"English, French and...Christ, I even sit on your table in Geography."

Oops.

"God in English you're so annoying. I will never understand why she put all the Arkansas boys on one table."

Then something clicks. Well, for her anyway.

"Wait, so if you're in Arkansas, what did you know of Ivy James?"

Time to lie.

"Not much."

"Someone was trying to set her up with Gwebe."

"Well it wasn't us."

She's not convinced.

"It was probably Valerie."

"Hmmm...Well at least she's free. I would do anything to get out."

She fidgets with the compass around her neck.

"Who, Valerie? She doesn't seem free to me..."

She throws an empty coke can at my head.

"Ivy James you idiot!"

There's an awkard silence.

"Oh my god, is it raining?" I say, trying to break the silence.

"It's only a bit of rain."

It's actually quite a lot.

"Shall we go into the Quad?"

"Well okay. We might as well."

We go back through the crowds and through the bottom door that will take us into the basement. We slam the door behind us and the corridor is pitch black.  This corridor goes from the basement right down to the door on the left side of the Quad which leads onto the classroom blocks. We go in the opposite direction into the basement but the door opens and one of the teachers walks through and because it's such a tiny corridor, we have to press ourselves against the wall to let him get past. As soon as the door slams and the teacher walks out, I peel myself off the wall but Jay doesn't. She just stays there, pressed to the wall.

"You have something in your hair." I whisper. "Shall I get it out?"

She nods. It's a bit of the napkin she threw at me and I move the bit of hair out of her face so I can look at her properly. Here, lying under me, pressed against the wall, I wonder what would have happened if I'd just kissed her then. Then out of nowhere, she raises her arm and slaps me hard around the face.

"You ruin my best friend's life and it's because of you she's left so don't you dare think I'm some sort of object for you to use.  I was always warned against hanging around with boys like you and now I see why-"

 The door goes flying open and three people come storming through.

"Look Tris I was just trying to-"

We break apart. Augie stares at me, Tris stares at Jay, Rome also stares at me. I just can't believe she hit me. God it stings.

"Hey JJ." Tris says with a creepy smile. She twiddles her hair.

"Hey."

"Ben, what the actual-"

"Oh it was nothing." Jay says, pushing  me away.

"I should go."

I don't need Augie's questions, Tris's patronising looks or Rome's sneering remarks. I go through the basement and slam the door behind me.

"Ben! Wait up!"

"What now Augie? Can't you just let me be?"

He stops following me after that. I go back to Arkansas and smoke two cigarettes out of my window. Then I lie on my bed and think about Thuglife, I mean Jay. The way she smelt, the way her skin felt under my fingers. God. She has no idea what I'm planning to do. I just need to gain her trust. That's all I need to do at the moment.

"Now here is the first draft of your coursework on 1920's America back. I want you to read the comments and the next lesson, I'll go through your coursework with each of you and discuss how each of you could improve."

The phone rings and she scuttles out, almost falling over her bin in the process.

"Does anyone know what the date is?" I ask because I think the date written on the board is not even the right month.

"Ben, it's the 13th."

"Cheers Flick."

"Brad, Brad, what did you get?" Akash asks.

"An A. What about you?"

"An A as well. I was googling the mark scheme and luckily I was only a mark off an A star in history. My parents will kill me if I don't get one-"

Flick who is sitting next to him whispers something to him and he shuts up. Brad and Akash for as long as I've been here have been competing for the title of 'cleverest boy in the year' and considering they're both dating quite high profile creative Alvie girls, it's becoming a power couple struggle too.

"TJ, what did you get?"

I show Brad my C, scrawled in violet ink. Until a couple of  minutes ago, I thought I'd done pretty well for myself.

"What did you get Angela?"

Angela is trying for the smartest girl in the year and is probably one of the only smart girls in the year.

"An A*."

Brad clenches his fists under the table.

"Did you only an A? Oh. Shame."

His knuckles are going white.

 "Now I think it's break time so you can all pack up and go." Our teachers says, coming back in and tripping over the bin again.  "I had a sheet of prep for you but I've misplaced it so I'll...umm..."

We all pack up very quickly and escape. Brad is still fuming.

"What's wrong?"

"God I hate that girl." He whispers as she struts past.

"Don't worry, she doesn't have any friends, it's fine."

"And I have classics with her after lunch! God!"

I suddenly wonder if it's do with Lulu. Girls are so weird after all, it's probably the strangest and most complicated reason that none of us would have ever thought of.

"Shall we wait for Henry?"

"Yeah let's."

We wait for a bit while Henry mopes from design by himself. Out of all of us, Zook and Jel's disapearance has hit Henry the hardest. I mean, I have Augie and Brad has Lulu but Henry has no-one.

"Hey H, you okay?"

Henry shrugs his shoulders.

"I suppose."

"Come on, let's go to lunch." Brad's an arm around Henry's shoulders as we head into lunch and Henry sort of smiles but I know he won't properly smile until Zook get's back. Tuesdays and Fridays are the only days we have lessons after lunch and on this particular day, I'm not what Henry and I were doing in particular but it was enough to make us late. 

We were sprinting down the stairs from the library and although we were only two minutes late, when we get there, we realise one very important thing.

"Oh my god-"

"The tables!"

In Geography there used to be two big tables; one which housed all the 'lads' like Shreyas, Akash, Russian Kev, Valerie and Hayley (another Wildfell girl who is a complete bitch.) Anyway, Henry and I used to sit on the other table with India-Jane (who spends all our lessons evil glaring Henry,) Flick, Gwebe and Jay apparently. But now the tables are set out in twos and I just know this new women standing at the front has a seating plan.

"And you must be Benedict and Henry."

We nod in sync.

"You're late."

"Sorry Miss."

We go to sit down but she stops us.

"Oh no no no. First, I do not appreciate lateness in my class-"

"But we were only two minutes late!"

"Second, there will be no answering back in my class Benedict Middleton Jones. For being so late, holding up my class and answering back, that's an hour of DT for both of you on Saturday Night. Benedict you're sitting here-"

She gestures to a seat next to Jay. Oh. Great.

"And Henry you're sitting at the back next to India-Jane."

Henry sighs heavily.

"Now go and sit down before I make it two."

We oblige. I really don't like this women and I've only known for about 3 minutes. I don't even know what her name is. All I know is that she's given us both detention which is the longest and most boring hour of my life. Henry and I both have to show up at the Maths classroom on the third floor in our day uniform after dinner. I think they expect  sit for an hour actually doing work. We're supposed to be at a cabaret dress rehearsal but since the memory stick mysteriously vanished (last seen in Gwebe's room, so the story goes), things have been very tense. We don't even know if Jel has a spare copy of our video and they've been away for such a long time with no contact that I've given up trying to get hold of him to ask.

"Benedict Middleton-Jones! Headphones out!"

I sigh heavily and go back to writing out Geography definitions to make it look like I'm doing work. I had spent ages sorting out my geography folder into different sections but apparently that wasn't 'work'. I decide to do some English which I really don't understand when my phone vibrates. I look across at Henry. This is bad. Really bad.  God I'm so worried. The hour goes by so slowly and I begin to panic even more. I go through every possible thing that could have gone wrong.

"Right. If you've had an hour, you can go."

Henry and I hurry out.

"Walk Middleton Jones!"

We get out of DT and look at each other.

"Oh shit TJ. Brad is in so much crap."

"What are we going to do?"

We both turn and eye ball somebody's bike sitting outside the maths block with no bike chain. Ten minutes later, this doesn't seem like such a good idea. I'm sitting on the seat while Henry peddles.

"Keep peddling!"

"I am! Why don't you try for a change!"

We barely make it to Drama without almost crashing into two hedges. We go running into drama in our day uniform and seem to have walked in on something big. All the Alvie Girls are standing together in one group  while Brad is standing on his own and confronting Tris.

"Ooh. What's wrong Brad?"

"Where is he? I'm gonna kill him! I'M GONNA KILL HIM!"

I think Brad would have gone for him if Henry and I hadn't held him back.

"No Brad. He's not worth." Henry whispers.

"But he kissed her! He fucking kissed her-"

Brad lashes out again and shoves us both away. Then he knocks Rome to the ground  and starts to beat all living hell out of him.

"Brad! Stop! STOP!"

The whole room looks up to see Lulu enter.

"YOU BITCH! YOU WHORE!"

He goes up to her and raises his arm.

"No Brad. No."

Brad looks up the long brown arm the white teeth and dominant posture. We're all as shocked as he is. Particulary Henry and I. Jel beckons us to him.

"What the heck is going on?"

"You're wondering that Jel?" Henry asks, also starting to get angry.

"Wait why are you guys-"

"It's a long story. Come on Jel, we've work to do. Henry, take Brad to the kitchen. Jel, come on, we've got to get Lulu before Rome does. We go tearing through and approach the Alvie girls first.

"Have you lot seen Lulu?"

"She like, went through the door, like, to the theatre."

"But Jel," India-Jane grabs his arm. "She didn't kiss him. Honestly."

"Thank you India."

Jel and I go tearing through the theatre door. I haven't asked Jel how his second audition went or where Zook is or anything.

"You go that side, I'll the go down the other."

We go down either side of the stage. It's dark and silent and I keep tripping over all the wires and plugs for all the lights and sound. There are endless swathes of black curtain and she could be anywhere.

"TJ!"

I turn on the torch of my iPhone so I can find my way out.

"I'm coming Jel."

I go over the stage and battle my way through the black swathes of curtain. I swear I've dreamt about something like this before.

"TJ, are you there?"

"Yup."

Jel pulls back a curtain and lets me through.

Lulu is sitting there, in floods of tears. All her thick eye make up has run down her face and her blond hair is a mess. She's in tight jeans and a leather jacket with a crop top on underneath which is all over the place, like someone has run a hand up it or tried to tear it off or something. I kneel down next to her.

"Oh my god! What happened? Are you ok?"

She starts to cry again, silent tears that just keep streaming.

"Where's Brad?"

I look at Jel.

"Where is he? I need to talk to him!"

"Answer us first."

Jel kneels down to next her. She turns away from him.

"Lulu. Look at me."

"No! Don't you dare touch me!"

Something changes in Jel's face.

"I'm not going to hurt you. We're going to help you. But you need to tell us. Did you kiss him?"

She brings a hand up to her face and starts to cry again.

"Did you kiss him Lulu?"

She nods. Then she brings her knees up to her chest and hugs then tightly. 

"Did he make you do it?"

After a moment, she nods again.  I get up and so does Jel.

"Can you help me Jel?"

He offers her a hand and she pulls herself up.

"Ben, stay here with Lulu. I'll go and find Brad."

Jel disappears, leaving the two of us.

"I would give you a cigarette but I think we'd set the fire alarm off and then we'd really be in trouble." I say and she doesn't reply.

"Would you like for later?"

"Yes please."

The door opens and Lulu looks up. I've never felt more of a third wheel. I head back through the black swathes of curtain and go back into the Foyer. Then I realise I'm one of the last people to get here. Miss Nelson just watches me walk in and sit down in the corner, as does the whole year.

"TJ! TJ!"

I look over my shoulder. Only Zook.  He get's me in a headlock and Jel ruffles my hair.

"Now, the cabaret rehearsal can finally start. And thank you so much to Rome handing in the memory stick. I would have been a real tragedy for it to have gone missing with all your hard work on it."

We just look at Rome. He's up to something and it's going to destroy someone. The question is working out who, before it's too late.

The year 11 Cabaret is about the last thing we need in the beginning of December. By the end of November, we had two GSCE maths paper, three science controlled assessment plus coursework in Geography, History and business studies. We've also had four French orals and an English controlled assessment coming up in the last week of term and NOBODY is prepared. Even the weather can't get it together and decide whether it's going to rain or snow so it just sleets and the ground turns into a muddy icey slush. To top it off, our year 13's got us the whole house gated. We're all dressing up for cabaret in the loft and as usual, we look like idiots.

"Jel, there's a present on my bed. That's the secret santa gift isn't it?"

He nods.

"Last year, Zook got me a key ring from the school shop."

"Well it is in a tennis ball like shape..."

Zook bangs on the wall.

"It was a lovely key ring thank you very much!"

Jel laughs and adjusts his braces.

"Do you want me to help you with yours?"

"Yes please Jel, thanks. So why exactly did Mr H gate us again?"

"Well, can you clip that at the front? It's an annual tradition, unknown to Mr H, to get super drunk on the night before the 1st of December and running around, waking us all up."

"Yeah I figured that bit."

Jel laughs,

"Oh Ludwig. He's such a laugh. He put toothpaste on your forehead didn't he?"

This time, I laugh.

"I was just going to the toilet when Ludwig charging up to me and put a blob of toothpaste on my forehead with his thumb. Then he sat me down outside his room and slurred 'you're my body guard now. Stay here.'"

"I did wonder where you'd gone. There we go."

"Cheers Man. After two hours, I just crept back. I can't believe they stole Gallagher's Christmas tree."

"I just can't believe they took off all the branches and made it completely bald then gave it back."

We both laugh again.

"Are you two losers almost ready?" Henry yells.

"Yup."

"Come on TJ, let's go."

We all gather in the corridor.

"God don't we look a site."

"Oh Henry don't be such a cynic. We look awesome. Right, photo time? One for Insta?"

We all look at him.

"No Zook. Just no."

"Facebook then?"

"Ok."

We get a couple of good photos then sling our blazers over our shoulders and head towards drama. We're wearing exactly what we wore in the music video; converses, black trousers, white shirt, red braces and cheap black blazers which we bought when we were in Inverness from the big Tescos when we went to the cinema months ago and have spray painted writing on the back. I just know nobody else is going to be dressed up like we are. We get into the theatre and the only people there are the Alvie girls who are all painted orange and in different coloured dungarees.

"Shall we now ask?" Zook asks and they all nod. God knows what they're doing.

"Well like, whey hey Arkansas, like, look at you." Nicola says, pinging Jel's braces. We look amongst the Alvie  girls and we all look at each other. Something is wrong. We never talk about 'the incident' which happened at the cabaret rehearsal, the day Jel and Zook got back but now things which we were thought were long dead seem to be beginning to stir again. We're all thinking the same thing; where is Lulu?

"Ah ha, you're here. Well, come through to the theatre."

Jel goes up to the stage. Flick is loitering there in a long dress and high shoes. She seems to be the only one who isn't orange.

"Why are you up here?" she asks.

"Well I'm the compare aren't I?"

"I'm afraid you're not."

"Then who is?"

"I am."

Jel turns around and he clenches his fists and his knuckles go white.  We all just stare. Augie has never set foot on a stage in his life Hasn't he?

"Ah Arkansas, here is your table."

Miss Nelson come swishing in and gestures to a tiny table at the back. Jel goes up to her and they start to argue.

"Hey, can I sit here?"

"Of course Augs."

He sits himself down, looking particularly smug.

"Excuse me Augie. I think you'll find that's my seat."

Jel is towering over him.

"But nobody was sitting here."

"I was."

Jel takes Augie by the shoulders and hauls him up and throws him onto the ground.

"I'm serious Augie. Don't mess with me."

The boys from Gallagher are just entering but luckily Tris doesn't say anything.

"Now welcome to the annual year 11 cabaret. I have a glass of Prosecco for each of you after the first act but it's just one glass remember. Alvie, I believe your video is first."

They all file up on stage and Flick stands up to introduce it.

"Now, St Richmond College runs like clock work. But perhaps it's because of these guys..."

Then they all disappear. I've never seen anything like it. They're apparently Oopma Loopmas and it shows them doing lots of jobs around campus and in Alvie Lodge itself. They think it's completely hilarious and it's probably full of injokes that nobody else will ever understand. The girls in Wildfell just sit there, rolling their eyes, thinking it's the stupid thing they've ever watched.

"Thank you Alvie. " Augie says, strutting up on stage. "And now for the next act..."

There are three more act before our video; Smith, the Chinese guy in our year playing the Piano, A girl from Wildfell call Lexie singing while playing the piano and Tris and Lulu playing a guitar double act with Tris playing the electric and Lulu on bass.

"Now Arkansas, are you introducing your video?"

We shake our heads.  Our music video to Stacey's Mum was the definitely of the funniest things we've ever done.  We think it's hilarious.

"Zook and Henry could you go and get a bottle of Prosecco from my office please?"

She gives them the key and as soon as they've disappeared, Rome stands up.

"That was the gayest thing I think I've ever watched!"

"Rome!"

"Just sit down Dude."

"No. You're all a bunch of faggots and you ruin everything-"

Miss Nelson stands up.

"Do you want to know what they did?"

The whole class go silent.

"You really want to know?"

Jel gets up to meet him.

"Don't you dare-"

He grabs Lulu and pulls her up. Brad jumps up. The storm continues to rage outside.

"If you're so curious to find out what's going on, ask him!"

Just as he says that, the power goes and we're left stranded in total darkness. I think Rome storms out. All the girls start to scream and run around.

"Come on TJ." I hear Jel say. "We need to get Zook and Henry. We need to talk to them."

He grabs my arm with one hand and takes Brad with the other and we find our way out of the theatre. He switches on the torch on his IPhone and we go along and up the stairs into her office.

"Zook, Ugly, are you here?"

"Yup, Henry and I are down here."

He shines the light on the floor.

"I think the department are having a party here afterwards."

"As well as having to give a glass to all of us." Henry adds.

There are about 20 bottles of Prosecco.

"Jeez. Look, there's something you two need to know. Something has just-"

"Have a drink first and then tell us."

"Do you think we're allowed..." Brad trails off.

"Brad? She's been called down to the Pastoral office anyway. She won't be coming back anytime soon. Come on, we've got nothing better to do anyway."

"Wait I'm gonna text India. We should give them half."

"Yeah you're right."

"Can you hurry up then."

We start drinking in her office and end up going running out into the snow and I don't know what happens next. I just know I've never been so drunk.  I just hearing Champagne Showers by LMFAO in the distance coming from the year 12 G&T and  lying down to make a snow angel.

"Are you ok?"

I look up. There's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. She has a pixie hair cut, a backless dress and sneakers. She's an angel. She also holding a bottle of unopened prosecco.

"Jay."

She helps me and I sit up. Then I pull her down next to me. I offer her the last of my Prosecco and she swigs it straight from the bottle and starts to smile.  I remember drunkenly babbling about something.

"We're trapped here...trapped for ever more..."

She lies back and keeps drinking.

"You know, someone said to me in a dream once...that I'd meet three witches on the way to my fate...one that would deceive, would that would relieve and one that would show me the way. Which one are you?"

She laughs.

"You're delirious. Come on, let's go!"

She gets up and starts to run away.

"No. Wait.,"

I run after her. Everything is spinning.  I grab her around her waist from behind and spin her around. She opens the other bottle of prosecco and opens it and we dance around in it like its rain. The excess of luxury; we had no idea it would do so much damage. I have a sudden craving for salt; to feel the cool sea breeze in my hair not snow and the sand between my toes. I yearn for the deep horizon and it's promises of what lies beyond.  I feel the wild deep ocean inside me surge and whirl. I don't know where the line is for good and evil anymore but as the alcohol rushes through my bloodstream, it dissolves every ounce of good it meets. . I believe though there is more to us than just our education and our false morals. We defined by what haunts us and nothing would haunt me more than my next thought.

"Can I kiss you?"

"What?"

I just do it anyway. The wind of change continue to roar around us. I kiss her hard. Everything starts to swirl and merge. The snow begins to properly fall, covering all our champagne stained deceptions and intertwining snow covered tracks.

























Present Day

Nat watches as Ben leans over and gets something from under his cell bed.

"What now?"

 

Ben doesn't say anything.

 

"Is that a journal?"

 

"It's Rome's. I stole it. See, it even says 'Rome's revenge journal, keep out."

Nat is still trying to piece it all together.

 

"So how did you come by it?"

 

"I stole it of course. It's a cracking read, a real blockbuster."

Nat somehow seriously doubted that.

 

"Does he know you have it?"

Ben laughs.

 

"Of course not. But I'll give it back someday, don't you worry."

Neither of them had any idea that that 'someday' would be  a quarter of a century later.  It only took Ben 24 years to give it back, but that's another story.

 

"I'll go from then start then."

And before Nat can complain, Ben starts to read.














Chapter 10:Up the Wolves

Tuesday 8th January 2013

From the moment I arrived at St Richmond College, I had a problem with it. And it had a problem with me. Two years on, I don't think I've ever been hated so much by a place and I've never hated a place more.

 

 “Look Rome darling," My mum drums her fingers on the dashboard as we get caught in more traffic. "I know this isn’t what you wanted but you have to understand that this your last chance at this school.”

 

I don't say anything and keep staring out of the window at the grey Scottish countryside.

 

"Rome."

 

I don't say anything again. I'm too busy writing out my new revenge plan in my journal

 

"Romulus!"

 

I turn around sharply at her use of my real name.

 

"I hope you're listening. I only want best for you and that’s not more trouble. Ok? I'm not interested in what's happened or why you've been moved to Arkansas. That's just between you and Tina."

 

Tina is apparently my fucking shrink who came up with the idea of giving me a journal. I haven't met her yet and I don't want to.

 

"I just want you to reach your full potential and be the man I know you can be."

 

We get there and it's raining so hard, as usual with a strong wind blowing in from the East. After we've unloaded my luggage, my mother starts to cry.

 

"I'll make you proud. I promise."

 

She just stands there in the rain, weeping on the doorstep.

 

"Err...bye then."

 

She steps forward and kisses my forehead. She knows I don't do hugs. Not ever. No touchy feely in my world. Not at all.  I go in  and slam the door. As soon as I stepped into Arkansas, I've never felt so out of place. It felt like I was gate crashing on some inclusive party I wasn’t supposed to be at. Everyone kept looking at me and no-one helped me with my bags or ran to see me. I was stuck in this alien house as I dragged my luggage up seven bloody flights of stairs. This bloody house seemed to go forever. When I at last got to fourth floor which was  basically an attic, I was told by a very unfriendly guy that the year elevens lived along the corridor and through the next door. There were four rooms, one horizontal one, two vertical rooms on the left and one on the right. My room was at the end, the only horizontal one. In Gallagher in year eleven we get rooms of our own. But obviously not in this shithole. The rooms had labels telling us who in what room and each one was full of my least favourite people in the world. Zook. As a roomate. Oh great. Well. It could be worse. I entered gingerly but found it was empty, luckily. We had one window that almost reached the ground and over looked the mixed comm and there were two beds, two desks, two wardrobes and a sink which was …different. . The sink in my room was about the only good thing in this entire shithole.

 

 I sat in the corner of my bed and plug myself into my IPod classic, about the only thing of value I own. Tris showed me all this really weird music last term but the only song I liked that he showed was what I was listening on the way here; This Year by the Mountain Goats. It's the only thing in this world that understands how I feel. Then actually, I have a change of plan. I blare it out  of my speakers as loudly as I can. Then I lie back and wait for hell to descend.

 

7pm

This was my original revenge plan:

 

-Use Lulu to steal Brad away

-Then when Brad had drifted from Arkansas, I would win him back as my friend and then use him as a double agent to infiltrate Arkansas and tell me their secrets

-Use Candice to flirt with Jel and to annoy Henry

 

And that was it. When Augie came along, I added him because he could infiltrate

 

I had no idea what would happen.

 

The actual revenge has happened like this:

 

-I made Lulu get with Brad for fun but they fell in love and refused to break up

 

-I stupidly made an alliance with Valerie because she wanted to spite Jel for some strange reason. Valerie= worst friend EVER. The moment I moved to Arkansas she ditched me, like she didn't even know my name.

 

-Then Valerie decided to create first a bet between her and Arkansas for no reason at all apart from to spite Jel. Then she made it a no relationship policy, so Jel couldn't have another girlfriend. Therefore they would magically ride off into the fucking sunset at the end of it because of course, him not having another girlfriend would magically make him fall in love instantly with her. That's exactly how love works right?

 

-Candice is such a idiot. I told her to go for Jel and what did she do? She went for Trent. And I realised that I couldn't make her kiss Jel so I told her to kiss Trent in return for some fun. And what do they do? They got themselves fucking expelled.  You can have to believe me that I didn't mean for them to get into so much trouble.

 

-And then Lulu and Brad refused to break up. God. That was such a bad summer term. However Jel fell out with Brad which I saw as the ultimate opportunity however him and Lulu had their own little plan which I still haven't figured out.

 

-I hit Lulu. And it wasn't just once. Don't say anything ok? You think it's bad? You're not the one who has to live with it.

 

Oh shit, someone's coming. I better stop writing. I don't want them to think I'm a faggot for keeping a journal.

 

7:30pm

God. It's so noisy here. I hate this place already. Yeah so I was writing what actually happened. This is only for you Tina, when you read this in our next session.

-Yeah so in September I made my first proper friend. Tris was the guy I wanted to be like more than anything and he had so many creative ideas for revenge.

-We made his drippy brother Augie be our spy and he stole a memory stick for us and managed to cause a rift with Ben because of cause Jel knew we were up to no good.

-Augie told me that Jel and Zook both got second auditions for the tennis so we managed to get Augie to be friend Ben when they were away and cause distance between Ben and Henry. 

-This is where it got kinda out of hand. Tris and I got carried away with Lulu and he forced himself on her. He only kissed her but of course, I almost got beaten up by Jel, again.

-Because of this, Lulu threatened to tell Brad everything and Tris hit her so hard. God. He even drew blood.  As I said, it had got very out of hand.

 I just wanted to cause some distrust, honestly. The amount of time I've almost been expelled, I wouldn't wish that on anyone else and yet within my plan of revenge, I've seen two people banished and one sent back to their home country in disgrace.

 

Tris thought it would be a super fun idea to get high for the first time. And yeah, now I'm here. My whole life has been ruined by one simple choice. It keeps coming back to me, the last time I remember seeing Tris. We were loitering beside the medical centre waiting for Valerie to join and that's when he showed me. I thought it would be pot but oh no it wasn't.

"Look what I brought us. You know you want some don't you?"

"Is that..."

"Yup, £42 a gram."

I couldn't believe it. I've never had that amount of money and if I had, I wouldn't have spent it on drugs.

"I'm afraid we're snorting today. No needles left."

I was holding the bottle of champagne we'd stolen from the drama department but he grabs it and starts to swig it. I don't drink alcohol but luckily he wants all of it. I really don't want any of the drugs he's taking but I feel like I really don 't have a choice. 

"Val isn't coming, let's just go."

"Ok..."

He disappears off into the trees before I have time to say anything so I follow. We sat down in the dark and the snow was falling heavily.  He passed me the bag and sprinkled some on the back on my Iphone.

"It has to be in a line you see."

 Then he snorted it, once, twice, three times. He does that three times Then After a brief pause, he did something I've never him do before. He jumped up and began to. dance.

"Oh my godddd Rome, you have to do this. It's the best feeling in the world!"

He's dancing around with his arms in the air, as if he's never seen snow before and is just completely in awe of it.

"Give me the  champagne!"

I passed it to him and I suddenly want to feel what's he feeling, rather than cold, tired and bored. So I copied him. I sniffed a tiny bit of the damn stuff but as I do, I look up and Tris had gone. The stuff was the most revolting thing and to have to it up my nose, I could 't breath. That was the last time I saw him, dancing around, looking as if the world was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen, which I suppose it is if you're getting high. Then he had vanished into the night and left me about to snort more cocaine. I barely a gram up my nose but I knew it would show up my system if I had a blood test. I began to panic. I dropped the bag and I ran. And to cut a long story short, I'm here.


Wednesday 9th January

6:45 am

So, my first morning in Arkansas. We got woken up 6:45 cause we have to be at breakfast at 7:20 but Zook had jumped out of bed bang on 6:30 and disappeared with Ben for a communal shower.  They did this last night too; showering naked together and god knows what else. In Gallagher, we were all told when we arrived that if we chose to shower together, we mustn't drop the soap. When I looked it up on the urban dictionary on my first night, from that day on I always showered in the cubicle on the second floor. I've never dared shower in the showers with the curtains. Years on, I'm beginning to think that was just to scare us so there would be no nudity. So I got dressed while the communal showering was happening as quickly as I could so Zook wouldn't see any of my scars.

 

7 am

I came back in from pissing and Zook was blaring MIKA at top volume of his speakers and singing along in a serious soprano while taking polish off his shoes.  I haven't heard Grace Kelly by MIKA for like ten years and Zook's singing is so high pitched.

"Please, it's not even 7 am yet. Can you turn it down?"

Zook laughs and keeps singing along.  At the end of the song, Zook laughs again and says:

"It's to wake Henry up."

Really? I think it's going to wake the whole fucking house up.

 

7:10 am

Zook succeeds  because Henry appears in his underwear and unplugs the speakers and goes back to bed. So Zook puts it back on and play its even louder.  Then he leaves and I have to take the polish off my shoes and scrub my uniform with a nail brush with this racket. I don't even like MIKA that much. I wondered when Jel was coming back and I'm dreading it. I really am.

 

7:55 am

So we have our opening assembly of term this morning and therefore we have to wear our Sunday uniform which is the gayest thing I've ever worn. Honestly, I've never looked so stupid.  It's a pale blue blazer but not a nice blue, it's just too blue. Then this really itchy sleeveless pullover thing and a white shirt underneath and because I'm in Arkansas, I have to wear a red tie. Even the trousers are a shocking shade of pale blue. Every single item is emblazoned with our school symbol which is a hawk perching on a pile of books and below it is written Ab honesto virum bonum nihil deterret which means 'nothing deters a good man from his duties' or something like that. Chapel is going to be so boring, I just know it.

 

9:45 am

 

Chapel was SO boring. When we came out, Jel was standing in the ambulatory talking to Mr H in his jeans, a white sleeveless top and a blazer with a fedora hat and two suitcases. His hair is much longer and his skin is a darker shade of bronze. Honestly. He looks like then most charming guy in the world. He didn't seem like the type to have enemies; until became one

"Jel!"

"Zook!"

Zook runs and throws himself at Jel, doing a kind of koala like thing when he throws himself but Jel ends up holding him sideways but Zook throws himself with such force that it makes Jel stumble back. Jel is laughing so much that when Zook scrambles onto his back, Jel drops him and goes back too onto the ground. They're just lying on the floor of the chapel  ambulatory, in a heap and in fits of laughter. They high five and just lie there, as four hundred students file past.

"Get up!"

Mr H is raging.

"You've been back for ten minutes Jel! Ten! And I'm going to have to gate you!"

Then the Chaplin, Mrs Greenwich who is head of pastoral care and various other important people appeared and I left them. I just hear Jel saying:

"What? It's good to be back."

When we got back, I was going to read but as Zook said kicked off his shoes and tripped over them leaving, he looked over his shoulder, as he is expecting something.

"Come on, we have to go to house meeting!"

"I don't think it-"

"Come on, you've got to be there."

I follow him down the stairs because I always get lost and it just goes on and on.

I don't know whether they've been gated and to be honest, I don't really care.  Luckily Mr H didn't make me stand up in this house meeting but he did introduce me and I tried not to feel too self concious.  Now, we have an hour to unpack before lessons start and everyone is singing along to Golden by MIKA in my room so I'm sitting in the corridor, writing in my journal.

 

11 am

So it's back into the day uniform which is another blazer, black this time with matching trousers, a white shirt and a red tie cause I'm now in Arkansas. Our uniform has to be IMMACULATE as do our shoes always have to be polished. My mum cut my fringe off and I got contacts instead of the glasses and I look like a whole new person, honestly.  I grab my blue and silver school scarf, my bag and head out into the corridor where

 Jel is styling his hair in front of  the mirror and he looks like a right twat.

Whenever I see Jel, the anger and hate just boils inside me. I see all the horrible things I want to do to him. I always see the way everyone would look at me when he ruined my life but I don't dare touch him. This is his territory and he's the alpha male, with a pack always behind him. He give's me the look he always given me; a look that says 'you don't know what I can do to you so don't you dare come near me." He gave me it, the first time I ever ran into him. I bumped into him in the lunch queue, in case you're interested. I arrived at St Richmond's College as very quiet and withdrawn 14 year old and because Brad had been in all my classes, he was my only friend. I was just minding my own business and I was trying to get through the queue and  I accidently bumped into Jel with my tray. I remember how huge he was and the three of then had seemed like such a pack that I didn't want anything to do with them. I just wanted to get through.

"Umm excuse me." I'd muttered and Jel looked down at me.

"Oh you want through do you?"

"Yes please."

Then they'd made some joke about me being a dwarf. I was 5 "5" at the time and I could feel everyone looking down on me. Jel was 6ft and huge.  Everyone in the queue laughed at the dwarf joke and I barged through and found myself with nowhere to sit so I took my sandwich and ate my lunch in the toilet. When I came out, of course they were all standing there and laughing.

"Here he comes...the midget..."Zook muttered and they all laughed. I felt something rise up inside of me I've never felt before.

"Why are you so small?"

Because my arsehole of a father didn't look after me like he should have. I don't say that to Henry though.

"Yeah dwarf? I bet that's the not only thing that's small."

Jel laughed loudly at Zook's joke.

"I may be small but at least I can afford to have prospects."

I was aiming that at Zook but Jel turns on me. I could feel everyone turn and watch.

"Don't you even dare insult him."

I would have hit Jel but I was suddenly aware of Valerie, the girl I really fancied and Jel's girlfriend. I can tell how much she adores him just by her eyes. She's proud of him but it also makes her the most influential girl in the year.  I square up to him.

Jel whispers:

"I should have known you'd be a threat. And no-one threatens my friends. Not now and not ever."

"Oh and what are you gonna do about it? Huh?"

I have an image of punching Jel in the stomach and then beating the shit of him. He needs to know that it's not him who is the boss around here.

"Oh, you have no idea."

It's amazing how such a small series of events can have such a big impact. He looks at me now.

"What?"

"Oh nothing."

"I asked you a question Rome? What?"

I don't say anything. Jel turns to look at me.

"If you're really interested, I'm remembering the time I hit you with a tray and then you ruined my life."

He turns around as if I've just hit in the face.

"You were a threat. I had to do something about it."

The way he says, god, as if it's nothing.

 "How was I a threat in anyway?"

"I told you once Rome, no-one threatens my friends. Not now. Not ever."

"How do you get away with so controlling and manipulative?"

We square up to each other.

"Woah, beef out here much. No fighting in the corridor, please."

Zook appears from Henry's room.

"Let's go. Where's Ugly?"

"I'm coming, Jesus." Henry yells back.

"TJ! Get your sorry ass out here NOW!"

I leave them to it because I know when they all arrive, I'm going to be the centre of all their jokes again and that's caused me enough trouble already.


Friday 11 January

5:00pm

I had my first session with Tina and she was very pleased about all my writing but she is a bit of an idiot. I will admit that. I feel like a such a victim, going to a shrink, so special needs. Reem was always the one who saw all the specialists and I was the one who would give him chocolate and read to him to stop him crying.  That's only thing my father provided. He gave us a lot of books to read.

"So this idea of revenge, it was given to you because Jel made fun of you?"

I shook my head.

"It's something else."

"What?"

I hate this memory. But I told her. I have to. So I told her about  the day I walked into the canteen and everyone in the year turned around and looked at me as I looked for somewhere to sit. That was the first day out of many I ate my lunch in the toilet. I told her about how I was cast out of all social circles before I'd even had a chance to meet most of the people in our year. I remember when I really knew something was wrong because Brad disappeared out my life within 24 hours. The looks. The gossip. The whispering. The lies. The feeling of never wanting to go to a meal because of the anxiety of having no one to sit with. I tell her about developing social anxiety on top of everything else and never being able to go to  a G&T because I was so terrified of being laughed at. I was Rome, the girlfriend stealer, the womanizer who would always take your girl.

"So you created a new identity for yourself through this revenge?"

"A sense yes. I didn't mean to become a bully, I was just trying to get even. Christ, even Arkansas's house motto is 'Ab alio spectes alteri quod feceris-"

"As you do to another, expect another to do to you. Yes, that phrase was going through my mind too. So although everyone sees as the year group bully, it is questionable who really is the bad guy here? Or is there is a good and bad guy? Are we all as bad as each other?"

She really does make me think, this women and while I was sitting on that sofa, I decided that if they're just as bad as me, I need to finish what I've started. And then I move on and not cause any more trouble.

"I think it's human nature. I mean in Arkansas, I've seen the worst of human nature but I've also seen the best. The way they look after each other and the fun they have. I think I was partly just really jealous because I've never really had friendship like that. They're like a family. And...and..."

"This makes you want revenge because they made you so alone for so long? "

Yes. Yes. That's partly it.

She writes down something on her pad of paper.

"What do you want now Rome, that you've been offered a fresh start. Love? Good grades?"

She rattles off a list but there's one thing that appears in my head. Redemption.

"I don't know."

I don't know how to be redeemed. I've got two and half years in this place and I need to become someone other than the bully and the girlfriend stealer. After our session finished,  I walked out the med centre and slouched back to Arkansas, trying to keep a low profile despite all the looks I was getting. Everyone is furious because Tristan was much more liked and either we should have both gone or it should have been in reverse. I should have gone and Tris should have stayed.  I wandered up all the flights of stairs and I suddenly had a yearning for friendly faces, familiar walls and the smell of somewhere I called home. This was so alien to me. I'm now sitting in my cupboard, hiding from everyone and writing this by the light of my Iphone-

 

5:25pm

Zook just came  barging in and after a moment, he'd said.

"Rome, come out of the cupboard."

How he knew I was in there, I had no idea.

I crawled out but left my journal in there.

"We need to talk."

He saw the look on my face.

"It's nothing bad."

I sit down and he comes and sits down next to me. I used to hate Zook but he's not as bad as I always remembered him to be.

"Look, I know it's not easy coming to a new house. "

It's the closest I've ever got to an apology from anyone in Arkansas.

"But please don't cause any trouble. Please."

"Why?"

Zook looks so shocked, like he thought I couldn't speak or something.

"You know it wasn't me who Henry's girlfriend kissed and yet you've blamed it all on me. I have every right to cause trouble Zook. Every damn right."

And I get up and I leave him. I go outside into the woods and have a cigarette. Here in nature, is where I can have a break and get everyone off my back. And as I sit there, I plan my new revenge. Zook thinks I'm not gonna cause trouble then he has no idea. 

 

Thursday 17th January

 

8:12pm

I’m doing my English prep, plugged into my music I’m totally in the zone. Zook is next door as usual with Henry the Iceman and Ben the Ginger freak and I presume Brad and Jel are there too. It’s the first decent bit of peace I’ve had since the evening before Henry the perv took out a bit of the ceiling.    I take out my headphones for a second and as usual they're shrieking about something or other.

 

"Oi, get your own, fatty!” Henry shrieks next door.

“Oh, so I’m the fatty now? Who ate all my chocolate digestives once without asking?” Brad asks.

God. It's like this EVERYDAY.

“It was in year nine and it was a dare. You weren’t around and he-” I guess Henry is talking about Zook. “dared me to see how many I could fit in my mouth.”

“It wasn’t just me. Jel and Binbag were too.”

Who the fuck is Binbag?

“And I came back from a really long tiring swimming gala which I had been at since 6:20 in the morning because we were away at Glenalmond and you were sitting on my bed-”

“Actually it was mine.” Zook adds in but he’s cut off by Brad.

“With an empty packet next to you, a mouth full of digestives and crumbs everywhere. I was so angry, I really was.”

I plug myself into my headphones. I really don't want to hear anymore. I'm just zoning out when the door bangs open and Zook comes hurtling in.  Zook is by the far one of the weirdest, the loudest and craziest people I have ever met and that’s saying something and I swear I've never seen Zook walk in my life. He is always running. He stops right in his tracks when he comes in, as if he has just seen me for the first time in his room.

 

"Yes?"

 

He looks at his desk. Then he looks at the wall. Then back to the desk. Then he sits down at his desk, props his feet up on the desk and starts to noisily eat a packet of Rich Teas.

 

"Rich T?"

 

I really want but I don't know if I should.

 

"You know you want to."

 

"No thank you."

 

"Fine, all the more for me."

He begins to crunch on them noisily.

"You know, I saw a phrase on the back of a book about tea and biscuits and it said that if this, is a Rich T, then where are the Poor Tea biscuits and what in the world must they look like."

 

If there is one talent Zook does possess, it's being able to talk drivel constantly. There is just no off button. Well. I know one. But even for me, that's just cruel.

 

"Zook. I'm trying to work so if you're not going to-"

 

He ignores me.

 

"I bet they're square shapes...wait, there was a plate here."

 

 Then he looks at the wall. Then back to the desk.  He looks at the wall  again.

 

"Did you break the plate? The one that was one my desk?"

 

I don't say anything.

 

"And everyone thinks I'm weird."

 

Zook shakes his head and disappears out.  Well you know what? I don't care what him or the rest of the freakshow thinks.  Nope. Not at all. Wait, actually, that gives me an idea. I need to be on Zook's side if he's going to tell me anything. I have to pretend to be his friend while secretely plotting my revenge.

"Actually, can I have that Rich-T?"

He just looks at me.

"Sure. You know Rome, you're a complete bastard but as a roommate, you're not too bad."

"Well thanks. Thanks."

He laughs and I laugh along. Maybe this isn't going to be as bad or as hard I thought.


Wednesday 23rd January

Ok so I've made a new plan of revenge. I'm sitting in classics and I'm bored out of my skull. I have the worst class in the world and they all think they can laugh at me because I moved houses. Particularly Angela. God she makes my skin crawl, she's so gross.

"So Brad, tell me, is it nice having Rome in Arkansas?"

 I look up from rewriting my ultimate revenge plan.

"Or should I be asking Rome his opinion?"

"Don't ask him. He doesn't deserve an opinion." Brad answers and goes back to his work.

"Oh. Is this to do with Lulu?" Angela asks. Brad stands up.

"What do you know about Lulu and I? None of you have any idea. None at all."

"Oh but Rome does."

"Wait what?"

"What do you know Rome"

Brad stands up and I shut my journal and stand up to meet him.

"Well?"

I ummm...hit your girlfriend. I wonder how he would react if I told him that.

 

12:10pm

I was coming out of classics and trying to remember the one Latin phrase that had just made my skin prickle. Lupus est homo homini aka man is wolf to man. I go up into the library and get out Wolf Hall which my classics teacher recommended to me and oh my god, it was heavy.  I went into lunch and Augie was at the other end of  a big table.  Luckily there was about 15 people between us.

"It's just not fair...it wasn't his fault and now his whole life has been ruined..."

I don't think anyone is listening to him to be honest.

"It's not fair that he was expelled...."

I look down the table at him.

"Christ Augie! Stop whinging!"

He looks at me in shock. The whole table goes quiet.

"Did you know your brother was a crackhead? A fucking junkie? He offered me goddam cocaine!"

A gasp ripples across the table.  Val looks up at me.

 

"Jeez man, don't yell."

 

That makes me just want to yell even more.

 

"All you did was steal a memory stick for me! Woah! Big fucking deal! Get a grip Augie! You have nothing to complain about! Nothing!"

 

And I stormed out, leaving him and all the people on the table in shock. I explained my plan of revenge endlessly to him and yet he still didn't understand.  Tris did though. And I guess that's why Tris isn't here.



























Chapter 12: Young Volcanoes

Monday 28th January

8:10pm

8:10 pm

Even though I've had my fair share of being reprimanded abusing drugs, misogyny, violence, jealousy, bullying people and revenge, none of those confrontations were quite as angry as Mr H that Monday evening when he got the whole house together. He was of course, raging about the tree and he grounds the whole house until the culprit comes forward.  And by that, I mean we're all grounded.  I'm just waiting for the cabin fever to set in. But I can't come forward, I'm too terrified. And I'm the only one who knows what it means.  Oh God. He might chuck me out. Oh shit. I had one last chance. I'm so terrified.

I'm skulking down the corridor towards the tea room to make some tea when I hear very heavy lumbering footsteps behind me.

"Rome!"

I turn around.

"A word in my office, if you please."

 I follow Mr H along the corridor which I guess are year 12 rooms and into his office. His office is on one floor and his flat is below. The loft is directly above and you can hear everyone up there making so much noise.  His office has a sofa at one wall to the left of the door with a window above it that looks directly out onto the tree which has my carving very visibly there.   Between his desk which curves around the rest of the room and the sofa which I am now sitting on, is a flight of stairs which I'm guessing leads into his flat below.  He sits down on the swivel chair which creaks under his weight and  checks something on his computer.

"Can you excuse me for a second?"

He gets up and disappears down the stairs. I sit on the dark red sofa and look around his office. The walls are cream and the carpet a faded beige.

I've only been in here in once before, when Mr H welcomed into Arkansas on my first night here.

"Welcome to Arkansas." He'd said in that gruff tone of his. "I know you're only here for a short time but I hope you'll find a home within here."

I had just scowled. I sit there, the memory  very vivid in my mind and I realise then this room is an external version  Mr H's whole life and what goes through his mind, day in, day out. There is a bookcase on the right of the door and it is double layered with books. There are textbooks and past papers and ringbinder files and forms and photos of Arkansas boys, obviously meant to go up on the walls or in the corridors but have never made it. There is also a pile of those letterman jackets in red and white that everyone seems to have and various piles of house sports kit. On the wall there is a Shakespeare calendar, a framed photo of a large sprawling city which I'm guessing is Capetown in South Africa and another of a sprawling savannah under a pale blue sky. I wonder what it must be like here to move from here to a country as beautiful as that and, yet, to end up back here, at the end of the railway line, the end of the world. There is also a photo of a rugby team which looks like it's in the 80s sometime so I'm guessing a young Mr H in his rugby playing days and one of the globe theatre. There are also two house photos of Arkansas which I'm guessing have been his two years in his hell hole of a house. On his desk is a framed photo of two beautiful blond children with tanned skin, twins I'm guessing , on a beautiful beach, faraway from this shithole and next to it is a photo of a Scandinavian women who I'm guessing is the Mrs H.  I wonder what happened to her. And what happened to Brad's twin.

 I adjust myself on the slightly uncomfy sofa and I wonder how many people have sat where I'm sitting; badly behaved juniors being reprimanded, comforting a year nine with really bad home sickness or helping GSCE students with their English. I imagine him having young and eager junior year nines and tens in here for chocolate fondues and hearing all the gossip or the year 11s for Pizza as a break from revision and talking about girls and sixthform subjects. He must have had so many sixthform get togethers in here, swathes of almost grown up teenagers all gathered around, eating and clutching their cans of cider or their beers, whiling away the long Saturday nights on campus talking about girls and gossip and the future and how they would be all friends for life. He must have seen every aspect of teenage boy adolescence go through this office and sit on this sofa. I find that strangely comforting.

"Ah Rome. Sorry, I had to print something off downstairs cause this one isn't working and well..."

He holds up his hands and they're covered in ink.  I muffle a laugh.

"Yes I know. Anyway Rome, I called you in here because-"

"Am I in trouble?"

He laughs.

"Well, kind of."

I don't say anything.

"What do you see out of the window behind you?"

"The tree Sir."

"So what do you think I saw on Saturday night?

I don't say anything.

"I know it was you who carved that phrase into the tree. My two top students carving something into the tree when they should have either been in the house or at the social."

I think of all the people who sneak off on Saturday nights and go and get really drunk or take drugs in the woods or have sex in the weirdest places imaginable. It's mostly in toilets like the ones in St Richmond's Quad but I also know from Valerie the cricket pavilion is very popular on a Saturday night as is the woods. I can hear Valerie's purr of a voice.

"The ones on the third floor is the best because of the extractor fan. Just don't kick over the sanitary bin. Don't it in the bottom floor toilet near the basement because there was this one in my house a few years above me who lost her virginity in there and she bleed EVERYWHERE and she did a runner she was scared and left him to clean it all up."

I sometimes wonder if that was here. But I don't think I'll be having any kind of sexual relations in any upper floor toilets any time soon. 

"Rome?"

"Sorry. Are you going to expel me?"

He laughs again.

"No no no. Why would I?"

"But you gated the whole house...you were so angry..."

"It was just an act. I was just trying to set a boundary. So I have a deal to propose to you."

I sit up.

"As of January next year, there will be a spare place in year 12 in Vermount because there's one boy arriving in September who is only staying a term."

"So..."

"Just do a year in Arkansas and then you move to Vermount in January 2014?"

Oh my god. Yes. Yes. Yes.

"It would be a really good fresh start for you."

Another one.

"I've spoken with Mr Murphy who as you know is the housemaster of Vermount and he'd be very happy to have you. There are only 20 boys and they're only sixthform but I think we both know that Arkansas isn't the place for you."

There's an awkard silence.

"But judging how things are going in year 11, there might not be much of the Arkansas left that you know by the time we get to sixthform."

Wait what?

"What do you mean?"

"Well Ben is probably leaving, Brad doesn't want to stay and Zook can't stay if he doesn't get the tennis scholarship His mother and the school had to agree on it. But I tell you this in complete confidence Rome."

"What about Jel and Henry?"

"I don't know. But I can just feel it."

I know what he means.

"Anyway Rome, because you carved into the tree, you're still gated. But it's only till Friday cause I know your mother is taking you out for the weekend."

"Thank you so much Sir."

"Honestly, it's no problem. Now go on your way but I'm coming up the loft soon to make sure there is no trouble."

I head back upstairs and to my surprise there is no-one around.  I think they've all gone to activities. Oh no wait, they've been making toast. They all clatter up the stairs and go into Henry and Ben's room. Jel is sharing with Brad and Gwebe but they both only have desks because Gwebe goes home after activities and Brad goes back to Mr H's flat downstairs after dinner. It seems like either they'll there all the time or they're never there.  I hear them stomping into Henry's and Ben room next door, stomp stomp stomp, bang.

"Oh Christ Brad are you taking refuge too?" I hear Jel asking.

"Yes."

"And at my desk?"

"Sorry Henry."

"God, there are tissue paper allergies all around today. I keep finding it everywhere..."

"Zook, I'm trying to work so if you could..."

Bang, stomp stomp stomp.

"Are you working too Rome?" Zook asks as all four of them trawl in.

"No I'm..."

"Good."

They all sit on Zook's bed and I plug myself into my headphones.

"Just so you know Mr H is coming up soon so..."

"Ah who cares." Jel says and get's Zook in a headlock. They start fighting like puppies and then somebody kicks over a light and a glass of water and it descends into chaos.  I decide to go into the corridor and write my journal there.  Stomp stomp stomp, bang. Henry has got to open the door and props it open while they blare music so loudly.  Then Jel comes and sits in the corridor with a bin and the other three take turns in trying to throw it. I leave to it and go and make a cup of tea. I can't wait till I move to Vermount. As I'm waiting for the kettle to boil, I think I hear Mr H's office door slam and that mean's he's going up to the loft. From that day onwards until I left St Richmond's College two and half years later, Mr H and I had an understanding that I can't explain. He was the only person in this hellhole of a school who showed me  a bit of mercy and like when I danced with Jay, I saw a chance of redemption only he had given it to me. I owed him for the rest of my life.


Tuesday 29th January

 

I had my next session with Tina today and I tell about my offer of a move to Vermount next year.

"That's so exciting! I'm so pleased for you. So, where we get to last week? You wanted for redemption. My question for you today is why do you want this redemption? What's the worse thing you've ever done."

I lie back on the couch.

"I accidently got two people expelled. I didn't mean to, I just kind of did."

She flicks through my journal.

"I mean, it was an accident. But I know it was my fault."

"Was it?"

"Well obviously."

She shuts my journal.

"You say in here that you encouraged them to kiss for fun. You didn't tell them to go and get themselves expelled, did you? There's a different between what you tell people to do and what they decide to do.  Doesn't that apply to all of this place? You're told to do one thing but you choose to do another, often the opposite. Maybe they got themselves expelled on purpose or maybe they didn't want to do what you said. You will never know."

She's so right.

"Is that the absolute worse thing you've ever done?"

I think for a moment.

"I slapped someone. A girl. And I encourage someone to force themselves on the same girl. That was definetely my own fault. God. I was such an animal. So horrible. So cruel."

"And why did you suddenly think that was the right thing to do?"

"I was all worked up and angry and vengeful and I'd seen my dad do that to my mum and in that moment,  I thought that was the thing to do. I'm so worried I'm becoming him and then I act on anger and impulse and do something like that and my fears start to come true."

She scribbles things down.

"Did it make you feel good? To be violent?"

"What?"

"Did it give you pleasure? To see others hurt like you were?"

 I think about Jay. I think about what we talked about

"Well?"

"I guess I wanted others to suffer the way I've suffered. You know about my dad right? I think it's in the file. Anyway, just for a moment, it would make me feel better, to see people suffer a fraction of what I'd suffered. That's why I liked picking fights for fun. It made me feel good for a bit."

"Did you wallow in self pity?"

Now I think about it, yes, yes I did. I did all the time.

"If you spend all your time feeling sorry for yourself, most people find that difficult to relate to and therefore can't feel any compassion. It's a downward spiral really, as you know."

Oh my god. That explains so much.

"Just out of interest, are you benefitting from these talks? Is it making what you're feeling easier to understand and control?"

I think for a moment. I think about Jay and how I wouldn't have been to the reels last Saturday if I hadn't spoken to Tina.

"Yes. Yes it has."

"Good. Now, what are you passionate about Rome? What's the one thing you truly love?"

That's a tricky one.

"Well I love...books I guess. And English. I'm predicted an A* in English. The highest grade in the year."

"Wow. That's great. Really great. I imagine you could get high grades in all of your subjects, make your mother proud."

I think how proud my mum will be I get all As or even all Bs. I have to. I have to make her smile again. She's the only person who has still loved me through all of this.

"Why don't you do something that expresses your emotions. Paint, write, play an instrument. Something to release your emotions into. I know forgiveness won't come yet, I understand that and you should a way of expressing yourself until forgiveness or at you at least manage to let this revenge go."

"Well I'm enjoying writing a lot."

"Then keep doing it, tell your story Rome. It might move things about it, maybe even change the world someday."

I fucking doubt that.

"So, what are your plans for this week?"

"Well I have a lot of extra tuition so that takes up all of my time. But now you've mentioned it, I'm gonna make a list of things to try and make me a new person. I quite like the idea of running and maybe even, god, I can't believe I'm thinking this."

"What?"

"Yoga."

"Why not?"

"It's gay."

"Is it? It keeps you fit, helps your metabolism, relaxes you, makes you better at sex...the list goes on and on. It's just like any other sport."

Some of things on that list do not apply to me at all, but I still to be all those things anyway.  Once I've finished what I started, I'm gonna be a new person.  Jay showed I can be redeemed and I will be, even if it takes a lifetime.

"Oh Rome, this is for you.  When you've saved up enough, this is the place you should go. You will heal there. I promise."

It's a business card for an Artist's retreat in the south of France. It's probably full of hippies.

"So here is my challenge for you this week. I believe in doing 3 things in life that I love; one that keeps me creative, one that keeps me fit and one that makes a bit of money. This week, my challenge to you is to find something that keeps you fit and something that keeps you creative.  Next week, we'll talk about your future after school."

When we finished, I'd kept hearing her voice in my head:

"Rome, one of the only things that truly matters in life is that you must do what you love."

I decide as I wander back to Arkansas that I must find these two things. My redemption starts here. This the rest of my life. And I must do what I love.

 

4:55pm

So I'm back in Arkansas, googling this retreat in France when Zook comes back i running back in.

"Where have you been?"

"Does it matter?"

"I'm just curious."

He's always in tennis kit and I wonder when he's going to find out his fate. I had a bad feeling about the result. Something isn't right.

"Wait, do you keep a journal?"

"Maybe."

"If you do, you can just say that you do. I'm not going to judge you."

"If only you'd thought that 2 years ago." I mutter.

"What?"

"I just said that I wish you'd thought that 2 years ago. It would have made my life and your life very different."

Zook sits down on his bed.  But then he is summoned  by Jel.

"Also Rome, please don't go around picking fights. It makes the atmosphere bad." He says, jumping up off his bed.

"If it's when I spoke to Jel, I told him that when I saw him, I remembered that last time we spoke and that was when I hit with my tray accidently and he ruined my life. I wasn't picking a fight. "

There's a knock on the door.

"5pm check in."

The guy ticks Zook off the list.

"Wait, you're not on here." He says, looking at me.

"My name is Rome."

"Yes, I know. Ok well I'll have to tell Mr H."

God, I hate this house. Zook disappears next door and I go back to my researching.

1:30 am

Fucking fire alarm. And of course we all had to stand outside in the goddam rain. I know I'm not gonna get back to sleep. Apparently it's a standard procedure but what a load of absolute bullshit. As I said, I fucking hate this house.

 

3:am

I've just had the weirdest dream. 

We were in a small train station and everyone started fighting. For a brief and simple moment we were consumed by anger, hatred, greed, lust, violence and conflict. For a brief moment, we were creating so much fuss; trying to dominate,  trying to posess, trying to get revenge. So much politics Then the trains came and what consumed my life for so long, is gone forever. I was left on the platform, still bleeding and alone.  I have to tell Tina. She'll know what it means.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Thursday 31st January

Thursday used to be my absolute worst days. But today it was one of the weirdest days of my life so far. It began in Chapel.  Although I have English third period, The chemistry and maths before and physics after make it a living hell. Apart from English, I'm in the dumb third set for all of those other subjects. Therefore it splits into three categories;  those don't speak much English and don't give a shit like German Kat or Celine, those do speak English and still don't give a shit like me or Nicola or Lulu or Lance. And then there's those who are too dumb to give a shit like Gwebe or Zook or Hayley. My three science classes are all the same but Maths is different because although we were mostly the set three crew, there's slightly hard working people like Abbie and Shreyas. Anyway, we used to be the set three crew; Nicola, Lulu, Lance, Tris, Celine and I and we had so much fun. Well we used to. Until today. I was running late and because the science classrooms are on the third floor of the St Richmond's Quad, that's a lot of stairs to run up. Like a lot. I opened the door and Mr Trevance just looked at me.

"Late again Rome?"

I open the door and some guy is scrawling over the board. He is definitely under 30 and is what all the teachers here  not; young, good looking and actually quite keen on what he's teaching.

"Sorry, I guessed that's who you were."

Then I notice the seats are different. Instead of sitting in twos, we're sitting around one big table.

"I'm Mr Trevance. "

He comes up to me and shakes my hand which completely unnerves me. Up until this point, all teachers here have despised me. Maybe this means it's about to change. 

"Rome...but yeah, you already know that."

I sit down in the spare seat and the look he's giving me, I suddenly begin to regret everything I've done in my life. 

"So,  set three."

He looks down the register.

"Where is Gwe_"

"Gwebe. It's pronounced Gweeb." Zook says.

As if on cue, he comes rushing in and Lance pulls back his chair so he goes to sit too and instead, goes crashing onto the floor.  He climbs into his chair next to Jay and I can't see why she's more of a reject than him when he is so beautiful and Gwebe, with his weird grey skin and the grey hair, god, he just creeps me out. No wonder Ivy James left school instead of going out with him.

"First rule of class, be nice to each other. It's the one of the most important things you will ever learn. Now we're all here, I'm guessing you will all be sitting the foundation paper for your mock exams after half term."

Shit.

"I'll take that silence as a yes."

Everyone fidgets nervously.

"Where's Long John?" Lance asks and everyone laughs.

"I'm guessing Long John was your previous teacher?"

We nod. We called him Long John or Long John Silver because we suspected he was once a pirate because he a very twitchy eye and could talk  for hours about boats if we asked him (which we often did.)

"He's had some family troubles so he has gone back to Australia for a month or two. Now, back to business. We have three lessons a week so I thought we could do theory in our Monday lessons, go through past papers on Thursday and something fun and practical on a Saturday. Sound good?"

We nod.

"Now, I want you to know that I want our lessons to be fun but at the same time, you all need to pass. And judging by your previous teachers, you haven't covered as much as the curriculum as I hoped."

As the lesson went on, he realised that we hadn't really covered any of the curriculum at all. Or at least I don't think we have. At the end of the lesson, he stopped our discussion about particles in an atoms and made the class completely silent.

"Did your previous teacher teach you anything?"

There's a long silence.

"He taught us loads about boats." Zook mutters. After a moment, Trevance actually laughs.

"Excuse me for a moment."

He leaves the room and stupidly leaves us all together.

Hayley looks across the table at Kat and Celine. Kat is German and the dumbest dyed platinum blonde I've ever met. Celine is also Scandinavian and in my head, I call her the ice queen because she is pale and cold.

"Isn't he hot?"

"Yah Hayley, he sure is."

"Celine? Would you screw him?"

Celine is filing her long talon like nails.

"Too clever."

Lance just looks at them.

"Are you guys like insane? He's  a fucking chemistry, like, a ruddy teacher."

"Oh Lancey, you vouldn't understand." Kat says, stroking his face.

"Thuglife, would you kiss him? Do you think he's hot?"

Hayley, Celine and Kat turn on her.

"Yeah Thuglife? Would screw another nerd?"

Jay tunes into what they're saying.

"Which nerds have I screwed exactly?"

Then they turn on me.

"Woah, we have not screwed at all. We've never even kissed."

"He's right. What makes you think that?"

The room goes silent.  Zook looks at me, Lulu looks at Jay and the girls look amongst each other.

I look at Jay and I can tell by the look on her face we've done the right thing.

"What do you think Lu? Hot or not?"

Lulu has been unusually quiet and she turns to look at Hayley with so much dislike written all over her face.

"Hayley, I have a boyfriend, in case you didn't notice."

"Oh do you now? Cause last time I checked..."

I eyeball Hayley.

"Just give it a rest, for fucks sake."

Celine looks at me.

"Oh Rome, sticking up for people now are you?"

"Yeah vhat are you, some sort of saint?"

All the girls laugh.  You have to remember, these people were once my sort of friends when I was the year group bully.

"A crackhead more like ." Celine says and they all laugh again. "Is it true you snorted cocaine?"

The room goes deadly silent

"Rome, crackhead and girlfriend stealer... You'll be taking Lulu from Brad next!" Hayley just keeps going.

"For christs sake Hayley, don't you know when to stop?" Lulu says quietly. "You're going to get someone seriously hurt. And no, it wasn't Rome who kissed Jay so stop making assumptions. If you had any idea what Tris was up to when you two were screwing, maybe you'd keep your trap shut."

"Oh I need to keep  my trap shut do I?"

"Yes Hayley, I think you do."

"You don't even like Brad!"

"And he doesn't even like you!" Celine adds in.

"Then why are we still together? You're just saying that cause Tris was so horrible to you!

The three girls; Celine, Kat and Hayley all turn on Lulu and she is about to be destroyed.

"Yeah Lulu, you have no idea what about-"

"Can't you guys just quit it!"

"Oh look who's talking, Thuglife, the cheater!" Hayley sneers.

"Yeah Thuglife, you should just take Brad too! He's just with Lulu to screw so I'm sure he'd have you too! Wouldn't he? He has no standards, so he'll take any kind of trash."

Lulu doesn't react but something flashes across her eyes.

"Look! Just shut up ok !

Everyone looks around and Zook is sitting bolt upright. Then Lulu slaps Hayley hard across the face. This proves my theory that girls hate each other.

"Lulu and Brad are entitled to a private life and just leave Arkansas of this. All you girls are single because of this."

The table is so quiet. Hayley and  Tris were on and off for ages but I think she was heart broken when he dumped her for Lutra.  Yeah there was a lot more going on that you could have possible have imagined.

"Ok class...woah...it's gone silent in here. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing."

Mr Trevance sits back down and the lesson goes on as normal.  At the end , as the clock strikes which means lessons is over, he holds me back.

"A word please Rome."

"But sir, I have to get to Maths..."

"It's fine, Mr Peterson knows you're going to be late."

He sits down and opens a large ringbinder file.

"Rome, at this rate, your aiming for an E and this is only core science. This set isn't sitting the additional paper.  We  really need to get your grades up. Can you come and see me after lessons? Maybe at about five?"

I don't say anything.

"Look, I know this is a difficult time for you but it will be even more difficult next year if you have to resit. I've spoken to Mr H and we've agreed this is the right thing. Will you let me help you?"

After a moment I agree.

"Good. Now get along to Maths, I don't want you to be late."

Maths is super tense and we all actually do some work for once. At break, I go up to the library which is one the top and fourth floor of the lessons wing when I think I hear someone crying. My initial reaction is to just plug myself into my headphones and pretend I don't hear because I really want to have some peace and quiet to read Wolf Hall. I just keep walking. However when Lulu or Brad turn up to English, Mr H has go and make a lot of phone calls. It's one of the strangest Thursdays I've ever had.

 

7:30pm

Zook and I are in our room, working away during evening study time when Zook asks:

"What did you think of Mr Trevance?"

When I say work, I'm filing things pretending to work and Zook is throwing a tennis ball around.

"I liked him. Why?"

"I was just wondering. Things really kicked off in his class and yet he seemed to have no idea. It's like having someone different makes people act differently."

I swear Zook just defined ...not my existance...but something like that.

"There was something about him that felt...weird...it's like he came along and shook everyone up."

I know the feeling.  Then I hear raised voices.

"Oh so this is my fault is it?"

"Yes Henry it is!"

"How?"

"Let me explain."

I notice Zook take out his headphones.  I open my mouth but he gestures for me to be quiet.

"Well, you wouldn't tell Ben when I was away what I told you to would you? Why?"

Henry doesn't respond.

"Because you're too fucking proud! You wouldn't spend time with Ben because he was friends with Augie and you think he's a chav!"

"He was a chav! Like Tris, Rome, India-"

"FOR FUCKS SAKE HENRY! Can't you just get over your class superiority for once and notice what's going around you! If you had spoken to him and got over your class issues involving Augie, Augie wouldn't have got so close to Ben and we wouldn't be here! So therefore it is your fault!"

Between Henry who is so proud and snobby,  Zook's who is so delusional, Ben who can't control himself, Jel who is so controlling, I can't think who is worse.

"Woah, this is so unfair! Why are you so controlling?"

"It's the only way-"

Jel was always a controlling and manipulative bastard. I'm so glad Henry has noticed.

"The only way Jel? The only way?"

"What else can I do?"

"Just let things take their natural course!"

"But it's all going to go tits up! We're going to loose everything here!"

"And being this controlling is going to stop that from happening?"

Jesus.

"And you think just because Zook hasn't noticed, it's ok to do it? It's not fair on him Jel! He's my closest friend for crying out! He's like my little brother and I can't let your control ruin his life!"

"Do you not think I know all of that? He's one of my closest friends too! You and him are the only family I have and I'm only doing this to protect him! To protect all of you!"

I don't listen anymore. I plug my headphones back in.

 

8:45pm

 Henry come's crashing in after house meeting.

"Have you seen Zook anywhere?"

I shake my head.

"Look Henry, we need to talk."

"About what?"

He turns to look at me.

"It wasn't me who kissed your girlfriend. I swear on my life. I don't even know who you went out with."

His face drops. That's a slight lie but he doesn't need to know that.

"Then who was it?"

"I don't know. Don't ask me."

I hear him go through and slam the door. He immediately starts to go for Jel.

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DIDN'T TELL ME THE TRUTH? SHE WAS MY GIRLFRIEND!"

Zook comes in and just looks at me.

"What  have you done now?"

"I told the truth. Someone had to."

"Jel is going to kill you."

And he sure tries to. He comes storming through, grabs me by the shoulders and, hauls me out of the chair and throws me onto the floor. He's all ready to smash my face in. Brad also appears and was looking increasingly worried.

"Woah dude, don't do this."

"Oh and why shouldn't I?"

Brad shrinks into his shell.

"Because he's telling the truth Jel! You can't be violent towards someone who is telling the truth?"

"Oh stick up for him Brad why don't you! This is all your fault anyway!"

"My fault? My fault?"

Zook and Jel both turn on Brad. There is dead silence. I nod.

"What the fuck is going on?"

"Oh nothing Henry." Zook says, his eyes wide with fear at what Jel might do next.

"Nothing? Nothing?"

Jel lashes out and Zook and Henry both have to hold him back.

"Fine if you're going to beat me up for telling the truth, I might as well say it then?

Can I get up off the floor?"

It's like they had all forgotten I was there.

"Please?"

A door slams and Ben appears in the room. It's a very small room remember, and there is barely enough room for two of us on a normal day, let alone for five of us. I wonder what Ben thought when he first entered with Brad  hunched over in a chair, Zook and Henry holding back Jel and me, lying on my back, cowering on the floor.

"Well someone has to tell the truth around here. There are too many secrets in this place. Too many damn secrets."

I get up and push my way through them.

"I'm going for a cigarette. I prefer it if none of you came with me."

And I leave them to their own devices but there is a lot of yelling as I leave. It made me think of what Mr Trevance was saying about how you put a catalyst in something and then it speeds up the reaction. I think that's me and I need to make something happen. Something very soon. I go downstairs and there's a bundle of post on the coffee table in CC.

I look through it and in the middle there are 2, both with American postmarks . One for Jel. And one for Zook. I push Jel's letter under his door and I keep the one for Zook from Allborough. I think I can guess what it says. I go outside for a cigarette and wait for it all to kick off. I wonder what they're all doing; Zook and Jel talking sense into Henry that they didn't lie to him, . Ben. God knows what's he's doing. Jacking off. Or listening to depressing music. I know Brad snuck off to see Lulu and I imagine they're dancing slowly round the reeling room, cause that's what people who are in love do, I think. It's like they know something bad is about to happen and are holding each other as the world is about to end. I lie down in the grass and light another cigarette. I wonder about Val; whether she's happy with the choices she's made or whether she's crying in a toilet somewhere. I wonder about Tris and what he'd think if he could see me now. I stub out my cigarette and just lie there. I know what I need to do now. I really need to talk to Jay.

 


 































Chapter 12: Pompeii

Ben

January passed without incident and merged into the beginning of February. It had been some of the best weeks we'd had in a long time. After the night at Christmas when I kissed Jay, life had gone on. It had to. Even we couldn't make it stop.  So yeah, as with every Saturday, we were having lunch, just the five of us which was such a change.  Jel was a lot quieter these days, Zook a lot louder and Henry a lot ruder. Brad was never there as he was always of, being in love and I was on my quest to prove myself. But the strongest undercurrents are the ones you can never see.  That Saturday, we were sitting around a small table in the corner and even Brad had ditched Lulu for us. There was something so special about the way we sat together, like the people we were in that moment had just learnt how be at peace with each other. It was last the proper meal we'd ever eat together.

"And then it just erupted...covered everything..." Brad is saying and Zook raises his eyebrows. Henry laughs.

"What?"

"Yeah Brad...what erupted everywhere..."

Brad flicks a bit of leftover lasagne at him.

"Pompeii Henry! Where I was at half term!  God you two..."

It's common knowledge Brad and Lulu have done the dirty so Zook and Henry just go for the sexual jokes whenever they can.

"First your chapel and now this..."

Zook and Henry burst into laughter. Even Jel who has barely said one thing this meal, laughs.

"Well Zook found the photos...don't blame me..."

"Chewy, you saw what happens if you google pictures of Nelson Mandela..."

They both laugh again.

"My dad was livid you guys..."

Brad find that hilarious too.  It was our house assembly that we do once a year and we all had to help in some way. It was -about famous people who were imprisoned and how they are inspirational etc. so people talked about Anne Frank, the guy from the Shawshank  redemption....Then Zook and Henry stood up and talked about Nelson Mandela. But as you've probably guessed, the whole chapel could tell in an instant that Morgan Freeman is not Nelson Mandela and everyone was trying so hard not to laugh. All five hundred of us.

"I think it was the fact you didn't notice until half way through.." I say and we keep laughing. The way Henry had looked at Zook in front of five hundred people with the reaction we were all waiting for aka. Henry swearing under his breath and Zook laughing out loud.

"And of course, Zook looked at me so I had to sort it out.."

Zook guffaws with laughter.

"As you know, this is not Nelson Mandela...but Morgan Freeman is very inspirational too...in his own way..." Zook imitates him. "God Henry, you looked like such a twat."

Henry goes for Zook and get's him in a headlock and Zook bites his arms.

"Oh fuck Zook, Christ, leaving ruddy tooth marks..."

Henry looks at Zook in a way I've ever seen about twice. It's a brotherly affectionate kind of look but also one of fear. The fear that you're loosing the one thing you can't live without. I saw it in Henry's face as he had Zook in a headlock and I see it in Brad's eyes whenever Lulu appears and she has the same thing in her smile.

"God I love you guys...don't ever change please..." Jel says and I hear it ripple across within his laugh. I look around the table, my eyes still watering from laughing until I cried, which is something I haven't done since I was a child and my heart swelled. Just for a moment, I'm at peace. And it's beautiful.

"Henry, I need a word. Now."

We all look up. And it's over. We never get that moment back.   We never get any of this back. The moment Jay approaches, it's the end of everything as we know it in Arkansas.

"Jay, what do you..."

Henry's eyes are so wide with fear. What does she want with him?

"Come on."

She drags him up and they disappear.

"I've got to go and talk to India." Jel says after a moment of very awkward silence and he too disappears. Brad gets up at the same time as him, presumably to go and find Lulu.

"Well fuck me. This is all about to go so wrong. So so wrong." Zook mutters. "Come, let's go back to the house."

We wander back in silence. I know Zook is having kittens about finding his tennis future any day now. Zook checks his phone when we get into Arkansas.

"Oh fuck. Jesus Christ."

"What?"

"Christ Ben, you just couldn't leave her alone could you?"

"Who?"

"Jay! For fucks sake! Henry is completely flipping out because you've been trying to set her up with fucking Gwebe!

"And what's this got to do with-"

"Ben." Zook turns to look at me and he says very slowly. "Henry is going to flip out at you when I open this door. He went out with her for almost a fucking year Ben! Do you know how long that is?

Too long Oh. Fuck. That explains everything. It really does.  Before I have time to think anything else, Zook opens and the door and then disappears. There is deadly silence. It unnerves me completely. The calm before the storm. I gingerly open the door to my room. Henry is sitting at his desk. I can see the storm behind his eyes. I won't go into detail of him flipping out but it began with him slamming his fist down on the desk and it was ending with him grabbing my by the collar and shoving me up against the wall.

"YOU LITTLE SHIT! YOU'VE RUINED EVERYTHING! Because of YOU, she seems have to allied with him! WITH FUCKING ROME! The guy who is trying to ruin ALL of OUR LIVES! It's because of YOU this is all happening!"

It was at this point Henry grabbed me by my collar and shoved me against the wall so my feet weren't touching the ground.

"Have you ever lost someone Ben? Someone you truly loved and now, you can never get back? And now, because of someone's stupid mistake, you'll never have that? Ever felt that? The grief beyond heartbreak-"

At that point I did something I never imagined I'd do.  Not in a million years. Henry is two inches taller than me and weighs at least 10 pounds more than me as well as being one of the props on the rugby teams. He could beat me into a pulp and then Jel would come and finish me off. But those words, god, they made the ocean in me rise. I saw Elliot's face for a moment and all that we went through. I hear his voice:

"Don't ever let anyone tell you what you feel isn't real. Particularly when it hurts like an absolute bitch." So I did it. I smacked Henry hard across the face. I think my fist hurt almost as his face. I don't ever hear Jel's familiar footsteps but all I know is that things would have been very different he hadn't held Henry back and grabbed both of his arm behind his back.

"Woah woah woah guys, break it up."

"Why are you holding me back? He was the one who ruined EVERYTHING! He turned the girl I lost against us-"

"Dude. She turned against us a long time ago. We can't control everything."

He lets Henry go and Henry just stares at him .

"Coming from the control freak eh? I should be telling you that Jel. I should have told you that a LONG time ago."

The door opens and Zook's familiar run echoes around the Loft. Jel's face falls.

"When are you going to tell him?"

"Tell him what?"

"Jel got into that fucking tennis academy! A fully funded scholarship! And he won't goddam tell Zook!" Henry hisses so Zook won't hear.

Woah. Fuck. Shit. God.

"I can't Henry...it will break him..."

Henry stands up defiantly and just stares at Jel. There is something very final about his next words.

"This is it then Jel. Nothing is ever going to be the same."

Jel doesn't say anything.  The door flies open and Zook comes crashing open.

"Woah, am I missing something?"

That makes two of us.

"Come on Jel, we need to go and train. We've got to get to tennis in ten minutes."

He just looks at us.

"Seriously, who died? Where's the funeral? Should I be in black? Is the a Hershey on the way-"

Henry jumps up.

"Hearst Zook. It's a Hearst."

Jel just stays put.

"I've got to pack, I'm sorry. I'm flying to the states tomorrow."

Zook's face drops.

"Please?"

"I'm sorry. I can't."

Henry evil glares Jel.

"What?"

Jel checks his phone.

"Oh. My. God. No. This can't be happening.  We need to go the comm. Now."

Jel sinks down onto his bed. He is speechless.

"Why?"

"It's Brad. He's been expelled."




















Chapter 13: The Blower's daughter

Rome

Saturday 2nd February

So I'd been away on Friday night in Aberdeen with my mum and when I came back to Arkansas on Saturday morning;, everything had changed.  Luckily, they were all gathered next door so I dropped my bag and I headed back downstairs and across campus to the year 11 common room. I open it and Lulu is bawling.

"Oh Rome. He's been expelled."

I hold her close.

"What's happened? Talk to me.  Come on."

"It's Brad...he's been expelled..."

"How?"

"He...he was caught sleeping with Jay..."

I can't take it in.  Brad.  Ruining Jay's life. Jay, the only girl I've felt strong feelings for. The one person I couldn't loose. And it's all Arkansas's fault. The door opens and Lulu starts getting hysterical. The four Arkansas boys just look at her.

"Where's Brad, Lulu?"

"This is all YOUR FAULT!" Lulu screams and I have to hold her back.

"How is this my fault?"

"If you had just told the truth, none of this would have happened! He wouldn't have been seduced by her again!" I say, getting angrier and angrier. Jay was the only person here to ever be nice to me. The only person who gave me hope.

"Who? WHO?" Henry begins to raise his voice.

"Fucking Jay! And they've both been expelled! Because of you Jel!" I yell.

"It's Brad's choice who he sleeps with!"

"THEY WERE CAUGHT AT IT ON A TEACHER'S DESK JEL! AND GUESS WHAT, IT'S GOT HIM EXPELLED!"

I punch him hard around the face and Zook grabs me by the scruff of my neck and throws me down onto the floor. He keeps down under his foot.  Henry sinks to his knees.  He's just beginning to terms with the fact the past two years have been a lie.

"Let me go Zook! Did Jel not tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

I pull a letter out of my pocket. I notice Jel slip away.

"Oh my god Rome, no, please,"

"Let me go first."

Ben slips away too, presumably to go after Jel. I stand up and rip it up in front of him so it falls like snow.

"You didn't get in."

And with that I slam the door behind me. I don't go back to Arkansas, I walk back to Gallagher along that  familiar road. I think about Jay. I think about how beautiful she was that night we danced and how I hope I'll see her again someday. I look up at Gallagher house, the place I called home for so long. I'm never coming back here. Vermont is my future now.  I take one last look over my shoulder, then I set off for Arkansas. I come onto the road and I see Lulu running down towards the bridge. I go after her as she sinks to her knees in the road, in so much shock she can't even cry. She knows she's never going to see Brad again. I go to her and help her get up. She falls into my arms and starts to sob.

“Oh Rome, he's gone to South Africa. I wasn't even allowed to...to even say goodbye.” She starts to sob. I turn her face away from the road, from his horrible place and in towards my chest. I hold her tight. This is the beginning of the end. Our world crashes and burns around us. Someone said happy endings only happen on the last page but I don't believe in happy endings any more. Just endings that we have carved out for ourselves. Then I walk her back to Alvie. We don't look


Ben

What Rome wrote in his journal is almost an accurate representation of what happened. And stealing it is my final revenge. But he'll never get it back. I'd been up to the loft to find Jel but he's gone. I run back downstairs.

 Then he lights a cigarette and disappears. I don't see him for a long time. I run down the stairs.  As I come into CC, I hear Henry and Zook outside.

I'm still taking in what's just happening.

"Don't tell them I've gone. Please.

I just stand in the doorway.

"Where is he? I'm gonna fucking kill him! I'M GONNA KILL HIM!"

I think Zook would have hit Henry. Henry grabs him and holds both his arms behind his back.

"No Zook. It's over."

Zook thrashes against Henry's grip and he lets out a howl of anguish as the tears stream down his face. It's the sound of an animal in pain and it rips right through me. The rain begins to pour down. I watch as Zook sinks down onto his knees, the tears still streaming and Henry face as his heart breaks. I think of Brad being carted to South Africa and Lulu not even aloud to say goodbye. God. I had no idea that us as human beings were capable of causing so much pain to those we love. Or that despite this pain, a feeling stronger, can still exist. For a moment I saw what love truly was. I saw it in the way Brad and Lulu held each other, the look in Jel's eyes as he looked over his shoulder for the last time or in Henry's face as he held Zook. But I never believed in love again after today.  I had no idea that Jel wasn't going to come back for a long time, that none of us would ever see Brad ever again or that Zook really would have to leave. All I knew was that  the tide turned against us that spring, all those years ago and took our home and everything we had. It never turned back.










































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