“Dad, this food is amazing!” Robyn moaned as she took another bite out of the vegetarian lasagna. Her parents both being pescatarian meant it was natural and easier for Robyn to be one too.
Her dad chuckled. “Why thank you! It’s your grandmother’s recipe.” Even though her grandmother was sometimes questionable, the food she made was amazing. Whenever Robyn and her family went to visit her down in France during the holidays, they were blessed with great dinners and even better desserts.
“It’s way tastier than my lunch!” Robyn looked out the corner of her eye towards her mother who paused, fork half way between her mouth and plate.
“Sorry, Robyn, but you did get up late today,” her mother shrugged, continuing to eat. “Take it as a warning.”
She heard her father chuckle and she sighed, forking another pile into her mouth.
“Right,” her mother said as everyone finished the rest of their meal, “your father and I wanted to have a word with you about something,” the soft expression was replaced with one of seriousness and Robyn felt her stomach tighten. It wasn’t unusual for her family to have family discussions around dinner. After all, they were all very close -- Robyn classed them as her best friends as they told each other almost everything. The discussions were usually about bills or what film to watch on family night or other general things. However, something told her this time it was a lot more serious.
As her father began to clean the table, her mother scraped her chair along the tile flooring to get closer to Robyn. “We . . . We are worried about your social life, darling.”
“You see, we’re both upset you haven’t found anyone who you can trust and be friends with. Not everyone is horrible, Robyn.”
“I-I know . . .” Robyn swallowed, her throat suddenly becoming dry. Of course her parents would bring this up at some point. She looked down at her hands clasped firmly together on her lap. The yellow nail polish was chipping. Perhaps she would paint them before going to bed.
“Robyn,” her father sighed as he stood by the sink, filling it up with soapy hot water. “We understand you struggle with bad social anxiety, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with it. Everyone’s fighting their own battles.”
“Your father’s right, but that doesn’t mean you can hide in your shell. That’s why you had therapy last year and work at the bakery. We want what’s best for you and we are worried.”
Robyn stayed silent, not making eye contact. She suffered from social anxiety everyday since the start of high school, making everyday chores ten times harder. She hardly went out to the shops anymore, hid away at school during her frees, break and lunch, and hardly ever talked to anyone unless there was no other option. She bit her lip. Of course they would be worried. Truth be known, Robyn hadn’t had a friend since primary school and she missed it, but after what happened . . .
“Talk to us, Robyn. Tell us how we can help,” her mother placed a hand on her shoulder, catching her daughter’s eye.
“I-I don’t know how you can . . .” Robyn caught her breath, preventing a sob erupting from her tightening chest. Her short hair fell in front of her reddening face as she choked.
She heard her father sigh. “We thought it would be good for you to try out group therapy to--”
“Robyn, listen to your father, please. Hear us out.”
“No!” Robyn’s voice came out louder than intended, causing both her parents to share a look of shock. “S-sorry . . . It’s just, I hate the idea. I always have and I always will.”
Her father’s green eyes softened as he came to sit next to the two women. “I know it’s not ideal, but you need to come out of your shell at some point. After this year of school, you’ll be out into the big wide world. You can’t let this hold you back. It’s not what we or anyone else want for you.”
“I know, it’s just . . .” Robyn squeezed her eyes shut. “Give me a month. A month to find a friend at school, and if I don’t, I will go to group therapy.” She watched as relief flooded across both her parent’s features.
“Three weeks,” her father said, looking her in the eye. “Even if you aren’t just close friends with someone, just introduce yourself to a couple of people, that’s all we’re asking, really. It’s unlikely you’ll meet someone like Kate again.”
Robyn looked down, her heart thumping. “F-fine.”
“Thank you, darling,” her mother said, a smile working its way onto her features. She got up and bent down, planting a soft kiss on Robyn’s forehead. “Please don’t let us down.”
“I promise I won’t,” if there was one thing Robyn was good at, it was keeping promises. No matter how hard it was for her, she was determined not to let her parents down and more importantly, herself.
“Thank you. Now, can you both help me tidy up? I don’t want to miss the latest episode of the show I’ve been watching,” Robyn’s father said as the two women stood up.
Robyn nodded, avoiding eye contact.
“Hey mum,” Robyn walked into the lounge and spotted her mother curled up on the brown leather sofa holding a steaming cup of tea. Her father was sitting across the room in his favourite seat which was a deep turquoise blue.
Her mother looked over her shoulder at Robyn and smiled, patting the seat next to her. Robyn walked over, carrying her own cup of tea, before sitting down next to her mother and wrapping one of the many throws around her body. Leaning into her mother’s side, she sipped the hot drink which tasted of lavender. Her eyes looked over at the television where the TV presenter was giving the weather report. She made a mental note to wrap up warm for tomorrow for the sudden drop in temperature.
“Got many lessons tomorrow?” Her mother looked down at Robyn.
“Uh . . . Double English, textiles and two frees.” Robyn said off the top of her head.
Her mother nodded silently. “Try and meet someone, okay?”
“I will.” Sitting up, Robyn stood and turned to leave the room. “Anyway, I should get to bed -- it’s almost nine and I want to read a book I found today.”
“You found a book?” Her mother chuckled. “Trust your nose to sniff one out.”
Robyn rolled her eyes. “It was part of a book swap someone had put out. Anyway, goodnight, love you both lots.”
Her parents replied with “I love you too” as Robyn left the lounge. She climbed the stairs and walked across the landing to get to her bedroom. Placing her glasses and cup of tea on the bedside table, Robyn slipped under the covers of the double bed and whipped Looking for Alaska from off the duvet next to her and opened to chapter one.
Worry began to gnaw at her stomach at the thought of what was to come tomorrow, but she pushed the anxiety down and focused on the book. Nothing could stop her from enjoying a John Green novel, not even an apocalypse.
Rays of the early morning sun broke through the haze above the rooftops, the mist once blanketing the city, dispersing into nothingness. Dew drops hung from tall, leafless trees lining the streets and a thin layer of frost clung to the grassy fields surrounding the terrace houses like a dusting of icing on a cake. Among the flower boxes under the windows of buildings, small bulbs began to pop up from the brown soil, delicate spider webs strung from one bulb to another, glass beads decorating the fine silk strands.
As the sunlight gradually crept up, the shadows retracted, running from the light that shone on the glass windows and began to warm up the icy world, causing the frost on the roofs and fields to evaporate into the sky.
Only a few people gingerly walked along the cobbled streets on their way to work and other places. As the temperature dropped so low overnight, rain from the previous day had frozen, creating puddles of ice along the street. Caution was required if they didn’t want to slip and fall, like one unfortunate woman almost did, if she had not gotten her balance back at the last millisecond.
Robyn was one of those few awake at the six forty am light. She sat on her bed, white duvet wrapped around her body as she clutched Looking for Alaska. Her hazel eyes soaked up every word as she let her imagination run wild to a world with no bounds. Even though her curtains were open, the sun was not strong enough to light up her room, so she had to resort to using the artificial lighting of her bedroom light.
As she read, she felt her throat grow scratchy and tried to clear it. She frowned as she cleared it some more.
Looking up at the clock on her wall, her eyes widened when she noticed time had flown by and it was now seven am. Slipping in a bookmark, she closed the book and put it to one side, flinging herself off her bed in a rush to grab her clothes. She slipped on a white turtleneck along with an oversized wool jumper in a rich camel colour and black skinny trousers. Rushing to her vanity, she applied moisturiser and plucked stray hairs from her brows. Even though she recently suffered from a bad acne breakout, her mother had told her it was always important to focus on the skin more than the makeup, and with this mindset, Robyn hardly used makeup -- if ever.
After getting prepared, Robyn grabbed her schoolbag which was placed over the radiator -- along with most of her books -- and packed her school equipment.
Walking down the stairs with a sneeze, she was greeted with the sweet smell of pancakes and followed it into the kitchen where her father was swaying his hips to music playing from the radio, flipping pancakes in a pan over the stove. The oven was on and through the window, she could see a stack of pancakes inside. With his head bopping, he hummed the lyrics to the pop song.
“Morning dad!” Her voice came out slightly croaky and she cleared it again.
Her father turned round with a grin and Robyn laughed at the sight of his black apron which said in white bold lettering: ‘caution, hot dad’. It was a jokey present her mother gave him when she found out she was pregnant with Robyn.
“Good morning, fine maiden! How art thou today on this chilly, cold dawn?” He gestured to the window. “You know, I think I would have been a jolly good actor in my younger years.”
Robyn laughed, eyebrows raising automatically, before coughing loudly.
“Sounds like someone’s coming down with a cold -- and don’t look so surprised! I certainly have the looks to be an actor -- and if you don’t think so your mother certainly does otherwise--”
“Okay, okay! Please, can we move on to the topic of food? I’m hungry.” Robyn walked over to the sink and poured herself a glass of water.
Robyn’s father laughed as he put another pancake on the stack in the oven. “Alright, alright. There’s some cough sweets in the medicine cupboard if you want them, and I’ve almost finished making this batch and your mother -- ah! There she is, my wonderful wife!”
Robyn looked over to the doorway to see her mother already dressed in a suit, her dark brown curly hair tied back in a bun. In her hand, she was carrying a briefcase along with a large moodboard tucked under her arm which had pieces of fabric stapled down. “Good morning!” She said, putting the briefcase down next to the table along with the board just as Robyn left the room in search of the medicine.
She gave her mother a hug after she came back, cough sweets in hand. Her father brought out the pancakes and placed them in the middle of the table. He had already prepared some fruit and syrup to place on top of the pancakes which were stationed around the plate of pancakes in small white bowls. “Thanks, dad!”
After the oven and stove were switched off, the three of them sat round the table, quickly tucking in.
“Robyn, I’m sorry but you’re going to have to walk.”
Robyn looked over at her father with a groan as he climbed out of the car. After many failed attempts, the old red car still wouldn’t start. Sighing, Robyn mumbled an “okay”, grabbing her bag. She was already wrapped up in a coat, scarf and beanie, so she wasn’t too worried about getting chilly whilst walking -- it was the more fact the ground was icy and Robyn couldn’t count on her hands the amount of times she had slipped and fallen on ice the past year. To put it simply, she was the queen of clumsiness.
Giving her father a hug and saying goodbye, Robyn went back into the house and out the front door. The bus wasn’t an option either -- the one she would’ve needed had already left and she didn’t have any money to buy a ticket. Luckily, though, the cough she had suffered from had subsided as her body woke up.
Leaving her house behind, Robyn started the slow walk towards school. No way was she going to risk bruising her tailbone again in the slippery conditions by speeding down the path. She spotted a few other teenagers walking in groups and sucked in a breath knowing she had to make a friend soon.
Casting her mind to the students at school, she pictured some in her head.
Ugh, almost everyone is already in a friendship group -- except Tommy Chafler who . . . I don’t even want to go there.
Tommy was . . . Peculiar to say the least. As much as Robyn didn’t want to judge people, there was just something about the kid which felt off. It wasn’t his unusually large eyes or six foot five lanky figure, but--
Oh yeah, I forgot. He stalks girls at school he likes. Dismissing him immediately from the list of possible friends, Robyn carried on her way.
After finally making it to school, Robyn walked through the entrance and quickly made her way to her locker down the corridor near reception. Every sixth former at school was given a locker to keep coursework together and since Robyn was an art, textiles and English student, this was extremely useful to hold her endless amounts of sketchbooks and folders.
Not only that, but everyone in her art group was given a cubby hole to leave large pieces of work in at school instead of having to drag it home, which was a huge blessing to the artists.
With twelve minutes to spare before the bell for first period was due to ring, Robyn made her way down the corridors towards her English class; she always arrived early to avoid the rush of students.
Passing groups of girls and boys hanging around the lockers and outside of classrooms, she walked up a flight of stairs, narrowly avoiding the brown banana peel left on the top stair. Reaching down, she plucked it up, avoiding the looks students have her, and threw it in the bin before leaving to find her English class in a hurry.
Pushing the door open, she weaved in between the empty desks and made it to her seat by the window at the back.
“Ah, hello Robyn!” Looking over, she spotted her teacher, Miss Rhodes, shuffling a large stack of paper which Robyn immediately recognised as the practice tests they handed in the previous lesson last Friday.
“Uh, h-hi, Miss,” Robyn quickly got out her English folder, pencil case, glass water bottle and paper.
Suddenly, the door opened and another person walked in. Looking up, she spotted a boy walking towards the front of the room.
His skin was a tan colour in comparison to Robyn’s pale complexion, and his hair was a lighter shade brown unlike her own. Although she could only see one side of his face, she could still see the large chocolate coloured birthmark on his left cheek that matched the colour of his eyes. Adrian Wilson. He was one of the few students she could put a name to a face due to the large birthmark and his popularity.
“Hey Miss, I was wondering if I could talk to you about university options for creative writing?”
“Sure, Adrian, but speak to me after class. I need to get everything organised and get this darn projector to work,” the teacher huffed, looking up at the box shaped projector which was definitely outdated. “Can you reach up for me to switch it on?”
Adrian smiled, effortlessly reaching up and pressing the power button. “Sure.”
“Thanks, Adrian. I’m not sure how I’d cope without tall people. Then again, I could get my boyfriend to come in . . .” Her voice trailed off as she smoothed down her blonde hair which was tied in a perfect bun before pulling on the hem of her black blazer, her cheeks heating up.
Even in heels, Miss Rhodes didn’t even come up to Adrian’s shoulders. The five foot teacher looked as if she could be crushed by students at school, but it was her snappy, snarky, sarcastic attitude that saved her -- especially in the corridors.
“Do you think you could hand out the essays for me, too?” Miss Rhodes asked as she let the pile of paper land on his desk with a thump.
Chuckling, Adrian nodded. “Sure, Miss.” He started going round the room, placing each essay on different tables in accordance to where people sat. Being popular, granted him the ability to know everyone and, quite obviously, where they sat in class.
His pile gradually became thinner until he was left with only a small stack. Looking down at the paper, he looked back up, his eyes connecting with Robyn who turned away, suddenly feeling awkward.
“Are you Robyn?” His voice came out smooth and deep as he came over, holding the paper out in her direction.
Robyn looked up, nodding her head. “Y-yeah.”
Adrian smiled and Robyn watched as he placed her essay on the desk. She looked up and smiled.
“Uh, I’m Adrian, by the way. Sorry, I never really knew you before today, uh, I- I definitely knew you existed, though,” Robyn watched, a confused smile tugging on her lips as Adrian scrambled for the words, pulling on his hair as he blew out his mouth with a short laugh, “you weren’t invisible, I didn’t mean that -- I just never properly met you because . . . Well I guess-- you just seemed . . .” he took a deep breath, “ . . . Quiet.” He cussed under his breath, eyes flickering down to the floor before back up at Robyn’s. “Sorry.”
With reddened cheeks, Robyn nodded. “It’s fine, d-don’t worry . . . I get that a lot,” her voice was quiet and timid. She watched Adrian laugh awkwardly, bringing one hand up to rub the back of his neck.
“S-sorry, once again,” Aidan cleared his throat and Robyn waited patiently for the boy to leave. Her eyes looked down at her desk as she swallowed, suddenly feeling the tension rise. “Let me . . . Try again,” she heard Adrian laugh and looked back up, “Hi, my name is Adrian Wilson. It’s nice to meet you,” he smiled, tilting his head to the side as two dimples appeared on his cheeks.
“H-hi, my name’s Robyn . . . Nice to meet you too, ah -- Robyn Reece, I mean.” Although the last part was rushed, Robyn praised herself for her efforts, a breath of relief rushing out of her as she saw Adrian smile once again.
“It’s lovely to meet you, Robyn Reece. Anyway, I’ve got to get on with handing out these essays. I shall see you again soon.” Sending her one last smile, Robyn watched as he left, her hand tingling from the contact. It had been a long time since she had last introduced herself to a fellow student, let alone shake hands with someone. Turning away and looking down at her desk, she spotted the test paper, a sigh escaping her lips as she spotted a big ‘C’ written in red ink.
Robyn watched out of the corner of her eye as Adrian placed down the last of the essays before sitting down at his desk. A small smile returned to her lips as the bell finally rang for first period.
Soon, sleepy students started piling into the room, yawning and huffing as they slumped down in their seats.
“Right, class!” Miss Rhodes said, trying to grab everyone’s attention. When no-one listened, she picked up the cowbell sat on her desk and shook it violently. The students groaned, finally turning their attention to the teacher who was creating the deafening sound. “Hey! Yeah, you lot! I’m talking to you all!” Smirking, she placed the musical instrument back onto the desk. It had been a device she apparently used ever since she started working at the school -- and it never failed to grab the attention of the students.
The class fell silent. “Thank you. Now, today we are going to focus on Blood Brothers and begin to write an essay for --” Groans erupted in the room, “-- this Thursday, please,” she began to hand out sheets of paper with the question on it. “Those of you who have been studying and revising year twelve work -- which should be all of you -- will have a head start. However, because I know what you lot are like, I’ll go through a quick crash course with you all -- however, you will need to do more work at home because if you think this crash course will be all you need for the May a-level English exam, you are sadly mistaken and may want to go get that head of yours checked out,” the class chuckled as Miss finished handing out the essays before walking back to the front. “The last thing you lot want is a big fat ‘U’ on your results, so get it together. Plus it doesn’t look good on my behalf, either.”
Robyn looked down at the sheet with the question, a sigh escaping her lips which unfortunately turned into a cough. She had been revising her year twelve English since October and whilst it was a chore, at least she would hopefully not fail the essay. Her predicted grade was a ‘C’, yet Robyn wanted to try and push herself to get a ‘B’.
“Right, let’s get this over and done with. Who can give me a plot summary?”
A couple of hands shot up as Robyn slithered down in her seat, the teacher’s beady eyes landing on her. She sucked in a breath as her heartbeat sped up, palms beginning to sweat.
Please don’t ask me. Please don’t ask me. Please don’t ask-
“Lucy, why don’t you enlighten the rest of the class?”
Robyn let her breath quietly escape as she sat back up in her seat. The anxiety left her as a wave of relief rushed over her hot body. Swallowing, she reached for her water bottle and quickly took a gulp to quench her dry, scratchy throat. She could no longer tell if it was due to her anxiety or cold. It was most likely both.
She had been called upon in previous English lessons since the teacher was unaware of her crippling shyness and anxiety, therefore leaving her in some quite breathless, uncomfortable situations.
The first three hours of the day finally went by and Robyn quickly walked through the halls to get to the art block for lunch. No-one ate in the art blocks because the teachers didn’t allow it, however, Robyn’s art teacher Mrs Barton didn’t mind it when Robyn came. The two were close -- close enough Robyn that felt Mrs Barton was like a second mother. She was the only person -- side from her parents, boss and one co-worker -- whom she had explained her social anxiety to.
As she walked down the corridors leading towards the art rooms, the density of students thinned out until she passed only a couple of female students sat on the floor, eating and talking.
Her highschool prided themselves with academic and sporty subjects -- anything but art and design as the head teacher saw it as “not a real subject” which lead Robyn to despise Mr Adams. It also led to less funding for the art department, thus limiting wall decorations and classroom supplies. Even though there were artworks from previous students placed up on the walls, the beige paint underneath was in dire need of a fresh layer and a couple of the ceiling tiles needed replacing, too, after getting cracked by goodness knows what. One of the harsh LED lights flickered up above as Robyn walked past it. To an outsider, the art department was somewhat unwelcoming, but to the art students, it was their secret haven.
Walking into her empty art classroom, Robyn sat next to one of the large windows covered in condensation that dripped down leaving glassy trails behind. Looking outside, the world seemed contorted through the dappled water droplets.
She listened to the muffled sounds mixed with the silence and tranquility of the room: the sound of feet echoing down the corridor; laughter and chatter of students beyond the classroom walls and the shouts of students playing football over on the football pitch outside, sounded distant. It created a sense of comfort to Robyn and calmed her down.
After taking out her lunch, pencil case, book and water bottle, she decided to grab her sketchbook from her cubby hole to spend half of lunch eating and reading and the other half working on her sketchbook. At the end of February, her coursework would be handed in and the students would then begin working on their exam piece and final outcome, ready for the fifteen hour exam. That was just over a month and a half.
“Ah, hello Robyn!” Mrs Barton’s warm, orotund voice rang out through the empty studio as she walked in, spotting the girl who was sat eating with a book in hand. “Ooh! What book are you reading?”
Robyn looked up and smiled gingerly as she hesitantly closed her book. “Hi, Miss,” she smiled, looking up at the teacher. “I’m reading Looking for Alaska.”
“Ahh, is that the same author who wrote The Fault in Our Stars?”
Robyn nodded, eating some of her vegetarian pasta. “Yeah, John Green.”
The teacher moved into the classroom, carrying a large stack of black sketchbooks. “I need to check him out, I guess. Sounds like he’s got quite a following.”
“Oh, Miss, you have no idea. I cried reading The Fault in Our Stars!”
“Oh dear, I’m not good with tear jerkers,” Mrs Barton laughed, landing the pile of sketchbooks on the table opposite to where Robyn was sitting. She pushed her greying hair back from her eyes and smiled at the student. “I become a wet rag!”
Robyn shook her head with a small smile, taking another bite of her food.
“Anyway, would you like some tea? I’m about to boil the kettle in my office.”
Robyn looked up with a smile. “Yes, please! What flavour?”
“ . . . Chamomile?”
“Correct! Am I really that obvious?” Her teacher laughed, her rounded body shaking as a large smile made its way onto her aging face.
“Yep. You always have it at lunch time!” Robyn laughed as she finished off the rest of her lunch.
When Mrs Barton came back with two steaming mugs of tea, she placed one in front of Robyn and one in front of herself before turning her attention back to her work.
Robyn smiled to herself and opened up her sketchbook after taking a sip of the hot drink. Flipping through the pages, she found herself annotating a few pieces she had created. Annotations were her weak spot, because whilst she loved reading, she disliked writing, which meant English was also a struggle for her -- especially with essays. Having always struggled with sentence structure and spelling, Robyn often found herself avoiding it in every aspect. The reason she took English was due to her love for books and because it kept her options open in case she wanted to go to university to study other things outside of art and textiles.
“How have you been today?” Mrs Barton looked up at Robyn who shrugged her shoulders.
“Could’ve been worse, I guess,” Robyn said. “I had double English this morning which is always tiring, then textiles which was good. Nothing overly exciting though, just getting coursework finalised and stuff.”
Mrs barton nodded her head, her long, wavy, greying ginger hair swaying slightly. She tucked it behind her ears and her pale blue eyes met Robyn’s. “How about your anxiety?”
“It’s been . . . manageable. Flared up a bit in English and whilst I was in the corridors, but hey ho, it’s something I’ve gotta get used to.”
“It doesn’t have to be, love,” her teacher said. Robyn looked up, biting her lip as her chest tightened. She had been fighting it for years. Surely it was best to not fight with it but accept it? “God doesn’t want you to suffer.”