Moment Six: Cat Fight

You can tell that something is being anticipated from the buzz that fills the school grounds. Adding just a drop of deviance to the unstable souls of teenage females transfigures them into a salivating pack of wolves. Normally, I am not an exception to this rule, however much I may like to stay on the periphery, but this time I am sick to the stomach because I have a terrible foresight that the main attraction will be of some familiarity to me.

The second that it kicks off, a chorus of cheers, screams and howls of mirth refract across the space as hundreds jostle to reach the front. The wave of onlookers is so vast that I find myself being shoved unwillingly in the direction of the slaughter. It is by far the worst I’ve seen in my three years at Rosenham Girls’: Florence is slumped face-down on the concrete, hair streaked red and uniform ripped in countless places. Four Year 11s enclose her, stamping on her limp hands and dragging her upwards only to drop her back down again. At first, I am terrified, but as I watch my friend being beaten beyond recognition, my skin smoulders so that I cannot imagine it being anything but white-hot. Not only are the bullies bigger than her, stronger, and greater in number – they are attacking, I am sure, an innocent. This is an unfair fight. I’ve got to do something. Now.

Without a third thought I charge at the predators as if turbo-powered, jumping on their backs and kicking and screaming and scratching the adversary. They throw me off without much trouble, but not before I get a good hit at them. I would have liked to do more than leave a few shallow scratches, but that particular freedom is short-lived. Arms grab me from behind; to my humiliation, they are brawny enough to carry me even amidst my violent struggle. I am set ruthlessly back onto my feet at the fringe of the mass of students that now resembles a crime-scene and hauled away by the wrists. I am unable to look at my captor due to the great pain that I inflict upon myself every time I attempt to lift my neck. No clues surface either. The only sound is the pounding rush of blood in my ears.

Moment Five: Stranger Danger

At the fringe of my vision, a shape is moving towards me. A grey silhouette. I am immediately thrown into some kind of disorientated panic as adrenaline kicks in, and I prepare to flee, just as the figure steps before me and I see the face properly: smooth, bronze complexion; short, tufty hair; flat nose: the boy that passed us yesterday. He holds both hands up in a surrender. Brown eyes lock with mine – eyes that communicate clearly their owner’s lack of malicious intent. Without realising it, I calm slightly. “What?” I breathe.

“I can help you.” He says ambiguously, lowering his arms.

I stare. When did it become standard for strange boys to want to talk to me? “What do you mean?” I ask, sceptical.

As if shedding an outer skin, the boy drops my gaze and distractedly grips the end of a grey t-shirt poking out of the bottom of his body warmer. “Um, well…I really don’t know where to start.” He murmurs nasally, as if he has a cold.

I look on suspiciously. I’m going to be late if he doesn’t hurry up.

“So – I – don’t know how to say it.”

Aw man, come on. I blink down at him.

“Well, I got this letter from my uncle.” He begins afresh. “He said that something – big – happened when I – we – were in the hospital. He told me to come to his so he can explain.”

I scrutinise him, uncomprehending, though interest is taking hold. His anxious but earnest complex rings the ghost of a bell. All these run-ins with my past can’t simply be coincidences. Can they? Yes, they can.

“So, what do you want me to do?” I ask, genuinely confused. Or perhaps I just want to be.

Blush creeps into his cheeks. “Could you, please, come with me?”

I cross my arms so as to ensure he knows that I’m not leaving without a decent explanation. And to give me more time to process what is happening; I already have a dismaying inkling of what’s about to unfold.

“I can, um, smell feelings.” He stares straight ahead at a point in the distance.

At the mention of the word “feelings”, apprehension begins to submerge me.

“Your smell is, er, stronger than normal. And you were in the same ward as me so I – I think what my uncle has to say might be of use to you as well?” He leaves it as a rhetorical question, probably in response to the deep furrow of my forehead. Then a shy, hopeful little smile creeps up his face, prodding against his lips.

It would have made me laugh if it had not been for the sinking feeling in my stomach. None of this can be true.

“Besides, a problem shared is a problem halved!” He exclaims quietly, attempting perkiness, though the subsequent shrug betrays his doubt.

Meanwhile, my panic is rising, and with it, the fever, but I try my best to suppress my reaction.

“So, yeah?”

I nod nonsensically, teeth clenched. I feel like I might burst.

“OK. Meet you at Rosy Park, 4 o’clock? We can sort out the journey and stuff; what you’re gonna tell your parents.” There is a briskness to his tone now; I can tell he is relieved that the most nerve-wracking part is over for him. For me, however, it is just commencing. He hands me a torn-out bit of notebook paper with, written in spiky, unjointed lettering, a mobile number and the name ‘Samuel’ heading it. “Saffron, right?”

I find myself incapable of speech so I nod once more. It’s all I can do not to collapse to the ground or else run away in tears. My new, extreme instincts do not like being defied. My head is having a panic attack but my heart’s desire is to know what’s really going on; what I have become.

I must be showing signs of vast distress because Sam’s face falls and his fingertips stretch over to my shoulder, though they freeze within an inch. “Are you okay?” His whisper travels through the hazy bubble severing me from consciousness.

My brain doesn’t like that; dazed by the dizzying heat confined to my person, I tear off in the vague direction of my school, Sam’s hand leaving a tingling impression where it brushes against my collar bone as he jerks back in surprise.

Moment Four: (Personal) Space Invader

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a body to my right, where a vacant seat usually resides. Autumnal tresses glint in the sunlight. A quick, hopeful smile flashes forth. It’s her, I think, pupils widening involuntarily. It’s – that girl! The crazy skipping one! I gape, unseeing, at the vast smartboard on which our learning objectives are typed, trying to get my head around this development. I need to say something. I can’t stop myself from saying something. “Sooo…you’re Florence?”

“Yea.” she responds, unexpectedly coy, though with a rough undertone. “Or Floss. If you want.”

“OK…” I agree, working to hold my smile in place. I’m so out of practise in getting to know people it’s almost unbelievable. A muteness stretches out between us and it seems that I’m going to have to be the one to initiate conversation. “I, uh, saw you with your friend on Saturday.” I say, some part of me actually wanting to start a discussion for once. Perhaps the recent lack of social life has gone to my head. “In swimsuits.” I add, failing to keep a straight face.

Florence looks embarrassed, understandably. “Ahh…” Her response sounds like a slow-motion scream that has had its pitch lowered. “Yeah, Eva was staying at mine ‘cause she has no school today and we were bored and I suggested…yeah.” She’s blushing now. “I had to drag her out the door.” Somewhat evil grin.

“Were you drunk?” I laugh and Florence’s mouth twists impertinently.

“Maybe you could join us sometime!” She giggles at the horrified look on my face. This common memory seems to have been the ice-breaker. “Hey, what’s your name?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry – Saffron.” I don’t give her my nickname; no one gets in that easily, especially new girls.

Mr Cain ticks everyone off the online register in his own time, so we get straight on with our work, although we’re well into the lesson by now.

“You OK Addie?” Florence asks the girl in front of us, concern simmering in honey-coloured retinas.

“Addie” currently has her head clutched in her palms, elbows gripping the table, an empty Excel document open on her computer. For the first time, I notice that her hair is chopped rather roughly, with uneven ends, as if she herself has cut it. “Headache.” She mumbles without turning. I get the impression that it was Florence who decided to bring this relationship into existence.

“I have some tablets if you want.” Florence offers.

Gradually – miraculously, it seems to me, Adalyn comes to face us and Florence pulls out some paracetamol from her rucksack. I give her a weak smile as she waits silently for a strip to be detached, receiving a hesitant one that closely resembles a grimace in return. I can’t be sure if this is because of the pain or my acknowledging her; with a guilty jolt it occurs to me that the latter could well be the case. I’m not one of those that tease her – for her shabbiness, her solicitude – but I don’t stand up for her either. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve spoken to her at all in the three years we’ve been in the same form, apart from a few ‘what do you thinks’ during group projects, to which I usually receive a shrug.

Adalyn gives the brightest smile she can muster to the blonde, accompanied by a moderately loud “Thank you.”

Florence then looks, beaming, to me. I am amazed at how speedily she’s come out of her shell. I guess even the bubbliest of people appear shy in an unknown environment. “I think we should start working now.” She sighs.

“Oh. Yeah.” I agree reluctantly.

“Don’t you like I.T.?” She chuckles.

I wrinkle my forehead instinctively. “It’s OK. I prefer stuff like Science and Maths but I’m not especially good at any of those.”

“Oh, I’m sure you are. I’ll have to see”

I shake my head, disbelieving. She can’t seriously be implying that she’s going to stick around. I don’t know what I make of that, to be honest.

Moment Three: A Drunken Encounter

Luca having slipped into the house, I slowly reverse out of the front garden, striding backwards onto the pavement, still waving at my new friend who has by now made it to the bedroom window where I first glimpsed him. When he has eventually disappeared from view, I turn round to continue walking and subsequently crash into something – or someone, rather: Thomas Amello.

Having shoved my nose deep into Luca’s older brother’s leather jacket, I get an unpleasantly pungent whiff of drink, tobacco and goodness knows what else. I can’t see him very well due to the darkness, but his body language indicates that he’s totally out of it.

“Thomas?” I frown, the name new to my tongue.

“Yeah…?” He slurs.

“Oh, um, are you OK getting in by yourself?”

There’s a pause, then “N–no keys.”

“All right, hang on.” I link his arm with mine, pulling him gently to the front door and ringing the bell, all the while thanking the Lord that he’s not an angry drunk.

“Thanks Saffron.” He murmurs.

“That’s okay.” I smile, genuinely pleased that he’s remembered my name. Seriously, these brothers are full of surprises.

Luca opens the door, takes one look at the oversized boy attached to my arm, and gives me a weird half–smile, half-grimace.

“I think your brother’s a bit tipsy.” I say, struggling to hold him upright as he topples to the side. “Sorry.” Thomas rasps at me.

Luca nods knowingly. “Thank you, Saffron. He really needs to stop doing this.”

My forehead creases. “This has happened before?”

“Uh huh. It’s pretty annoying. I’ll have to nurse his hangover come tomorrow.”

I stare, stunned, but shake it off. It’s none of my business. “Bye again.” I say before pacing to the other side of the street to catch a bus. It is still quite early; I hope Thomas isn’t going to go back out like that.