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All We Can Be

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Abby thinks she's normal. Jaz thinks she's weird. Liam thinks he's broken. They're all wrong.

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Abby in Trouble

Tegan slams the door on her way out. She looks proud of herself, glowing behind her foundation and her shoulders thrown right back. Once she’s a few paces away from the door she turns and shouts, “See if I fucking care, then!” and laughs and laughs.

“So?” I ask.

“Excluded. Two days. Mum’s on her way to pick me up and I bet she’s raging, she said she’d take them to court if they gave me another detention and now they’re sending me home like a bunch of bloody cowards!” She shouts the last bit at the closed door and starts down the corridor, and I stand up and follow her.

“I messaged Katrina,” I tell her.

“Katrina’s a bitch.”

“She’s okay.”

“Erm. She is not okay. She’s a bitch. She said my dad’s a druggie, as if her family never even went near weed which they totally do. I’m gonna slap her. I’m excluded, what can they do?”

That’s the thing about Tegan. She doesn’t do boring. There’s always someone to hate or some kind of gossip to spread around or a fight to start or something. It’s like there’s something in her brain that hates for things to be quiet and peaceful. It makes her good to be around. You just get pulled along, like you’re water-skiing or something, and as long as you keep your balance it’s the most amazing fun. She stands up hard for the people she likes. She won’t take crap, not from anybody. She acts like the rules don’t really apply to her, and then somehow they just don’t.

She’s my best friend, and it’s difficult to imagine a better one.

“She’s in Art,” I say. “Let’s go get her.”


Only it doesn’t work out like that. By the time we get to the Art block we’ve got a trail of teachers following us around and though they can’t touch you and none of what they’re saying is important, it’s really annoying. I get fed up waiting for someone to let us into the block, and Tegan decides it’s not worth it and she’ll get Katrina after school, and eventually her mum texts to say she’s arrived so she goes and yells at the reception women until they let her go. I try to sneak out with her, but the woman on the desk has seen this before and doesn’t let Tegan through until I leave, so to stop her mum having to wait outside, I do.

Now what?

I suppose I’m meant to go back to lessons, but it’s History and I haven’t understood a word that’s been said in History for at least a month. There’s really no point in me being there. As I wander aimlessly around the corridors I imagine mum sighing at me when she finds out about today - Tegan’s mum gets angry, but mine just sighs - but it’s not like she’ll actually do anything. Nothing that bothers me anyway. Threaten to take my phone off me or something. Scary. Not.

By the time the fifth teacher has told me to get to my lessons or they’ll sanction me, I’m bored of ignoring them. My phone is buzzing with pictures from Tegan - in a fast-food queue with her mum, wondering what colour to do her nails, screenshots of something someone’s said on the socials and why she’s angry about it - and I’m feeling a little bit lost and a little bit alone and for once I’m not in the mood for making life difficult for teachers. I need to be somewhere hidden, and luckily I know just the spot.

Up the stairs to the Music corridor. There’s the sound of thirty students plonking away on keyboards; in the next classroom, someone is being told to stop talking and listen because clearly this lesson is going to be important for the rest of their life. I don’t hear what they say back. After that classroom there’s a door onto a little corridor that only the cleaners use, because all that’s in it is a cupboard that stinks of cleaning fluid and a little nook that they keep their brooms in. I check that nobody is looking before slipping through the door, feeling proud of myself, and then I stop, startled.

There’s the cupboard. There’s the little hidey-hole, with the broom holders empty. And there’s someone already there.

In my spot.

And, just to make it worse, it’s one of the Freakozoids. Everybody knows who they are. You can’t miss them here; it’s a small school and there’s about a dozen of them, mostly in my year but a few Y10s as well. They have rainbow colours in their hair like they want to be noticed all the time and they’re always crying out about being bullied, and they’re always the first people to volunteer for anything if they think it’ll make them look important. Most of them love drama, but not the important, real-life kind of drama, just people on a stage acting. They annoy me. They annoy everybody. And now one of them is in my place. She’s sitting there all hunched into herself, like she’s just waiting for someone to come and shout at her, reading a book. Actually reading. As if she’s not skipping lessons at all.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” I snap at her.

She jumps to her feet. Perfect uniform, of course. Compared to the rest of her friends she’s barely there. No colourful streaks in her hair, no badges, no ‘look at me I’m so different’ makeup. Just brown eyes and brown hair and neat uniform and plain shoes. I’d say she looks normal, but I’m the normal one here.

She tries to look defiant, but she’s hugging the book to herself and her eyes say she’s scared. “Same as you.”

“Freakos don’t skip lessons.”

“That’s okay, then, because I’m not one.” Judging by her face, she thinks this is Comeback of the Year.

“Yeah, right. Did you not hand your homework in or something?”

She frowns. “I’m just…”

Skipping lesson. In my place. Either way she’s doing something wrong, and that’s okay for people like Tegan and me. But Freakozoids do as they’re told. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

So I have to ask. I can tell Tegan, she’ll think it’s funny. This girl thinking she’s hard. Thinking that she’s like us.

“Just what?” I ask, making it menacing. “What the fuck is a freako doing hiding out?”

She looks around, nervous. There’s never anybody else here but she doesn’t know that and honestly, watching her so uncomfortable is almost worth Tegan leaving me for the day. I can see it right across her face: lie, or don’t lie? Which am I going to make the most out of?

“It’s that lesson,” she says. “You know. Healthy Relationships.” Her cheeks go all red and her hands start flitting about in jerky, awkward movements. “All the...you can say no, that stuff. How to not get pregnant. Respecting Our Bodies.” She says that in Miss Scannoth’s prissy clear-cut voice; it sounds just like her, and I almost smile.

“Well it’s not like you’ll have to worry about that,” I say. “Nobody’s going to go near you. You’ll not have anything to say no to.”

It comes out automatically, and just sharp enough, and I wish Tegan was here to hear it. The girl turns even redder and opens her mouth once, twice, to say something, but for all that she thinks she’s so clever, she’s got no good comeback to that.

“Good,” she stammers out eventually.

Really? That’s the best she can do? What is she, five? I laugh, waiting for her to blush some more or maybe cry, but she just keeps looking at me and there’s a hardness in her face that makes it hard to carry on laughing, because it means that she’s serious. And that doesn’t fit at all. You’re supposed to care, right? You’re supposed to want to, even if nobody will have you. You’re not supposed to be pleased about it.

You’re just...not.

For a moment, just a moment, I think of Matty.

The girl sees that I’ve stopped laughing and draws herself up tall again, the book cradled in her arms. She’s still red, the tips of her ears vivid through her hair, but it’s plain on her face that she can see she’s got to me somehow, and that she’s proud of it. As if she’s got the better of me. As if I’m the one who is strange and needs putting back in her place.

She’s in my place, looking at me like that. And that’s not on.

“You’re weird.” It’s all I can say to show her who’s the normal one here, the only insult I can think of that sums up just what I think about that ‘good’.

She shrugs, like she just doesn’t care. “Probably.”

“Push off, then,” I tell her. “And don’t come back here. Go and find somewhere else to read your stupid book.”

She goes. And I should feel triumphant, because even though it’s just a Freakozoid, she’s moved away from me and I’ve won. That’s how it works.

Except I don’t.

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