Chapter 1-The Bet
Monday 9th January 2012
They say that if you make a mistake when you’re 18 and it’s still bothering you when you’re 43, you know you’ve gone wrong somewhere. And everyone often spends their whole lives searching where. 2011 definitely was definitely the absolute worst year of my life. I have no idea how so many things could go so wrong in 12 months but oh boy they did. I’m convinced nothing will ever be as bad as that. I don’t know how many things managed to cock up but oh boy they did. If there’s one thing I know though, boarding school isn’t a mistake. I know it from the moment I board that plane because for the first time in my life, I have complete freedom. Complete freedom at 14, every teenagers dream.
This is the turning point for me, though I don’t realise it now. I fly up from Leeds to Aberdeen then from Aberdeen to Inverness and I am now sitting in Inverness Airport by myself with only my IPod and phone for company and my three suitcases and I am bored out of my mind. There’s only so much Calvin Harris you can have blaring in your ears without it driving you mad. And of course there’s no Wi-Fi that I can connect to. So I am feckin bored.
The thing is; I didn’t really have a say about going to boarding school. I had been suspended from Filey High then when I was allowed to go back, I refused and after a week of school refusing my mum had come to the end of her tether so she spoke to My Aunt Constance who suggested I be sent to the boarding school her son, my cousin Roderick has just been expelled from for unspeakable reasons.
I go and check outside and it’s horizontally chucking it down. My taxi pulls up through the sleeting rain and I throw all my suitcases in the boot and settle in for a nice 2 hour journey going at 40 miles an hour down a really windy road into the middle of god-damn know where.
What was I doing this time yesterday? Oh yes. Not my proudest moment. I have a sudden flashback of me kicking up a huge fuss and doing a lot of shouting then my stepsister Claire practically dragging me outside and slapping me around the face:
“You have no idea how lucky you are!” she yelled. “You have given one ticket of this hellhole and you never have to come back! How can you refuse it! It’s been given to you on a fucking silver platter and you’re saying no? How? I’d do anything to get out of here!” Then she turns away and mutters: “You have no idea how lucky you are. When she put it like that, I did see her point of view but it turned out that my mum was going to send me whether I liked it or not.
St Richmond’s College was built in the late 50s by a Spaniard who had been living in exile in France since the Spanish Civil war and came to Scotland as a penniless refugee and ended up building a school for people from all different back grounds and places to be put in one place and try to work out how to build a better world through compassion, love and honesty. In my four years there, I did experience any of those things. Not once. It’s situated on the West Coast of Scotland, about an hour and a half’s drive from Inverness and the nearest town is Strathcarron which we can walk into if we want and it’s consists of a post office, Play Park and about three houses but it’s pretty dark so I can’t see much through the sleeting rain. It’s about 130 acres of campus with 6 houses, two of which are sixthform and there are almost 400 students.
I arrive in Strathcarron at 6:45 after what feels like hours in that bloody taxi with a driver who I can’t understand and he has no idea what I am saying either so that’s fun. Because it is January, the grounds of St Richmond College are all bare and windswept and muddy but I could imagine in the summer it’s beautiful. I get taken up the drive, past a few massive buildings, round a small roundabout and then up another drive and around a sharp bend which the driver swerves quite violently around and I hear my luggage tip.
This is a very crappy drawing of Arkansas House because I find description very tedious at times and also because Arkansas is so hard describe because it becomes so much more than just that. We’re all given one chance to belong, a chance to truly shine and looking up at that house, I see the next four years of my life, and all I have to do is get through them. I just have to adapt and survive.
The Taxi driver drops me off and I stand for a moment looking up at the front door, feeling properly terrified. For the first time in my life, I’m on my own with no parents to tell me what to do and although it is quite exciting, it’s also really overwhelming.
I drag my luggage to the front door and to my surprise, it’s open. I dump my stuff and just look around. The entire doors and corridors look exactly the same and I has no idea where I should I go.
“Hey do you want any help with that?”
A guy comes around the corner and I nod. He has sandy coloured hair swept into a long fringe and is olive skinned. He is also incredibly well dressed in cream chinos and an Abercrombie and Fitch hoodie and funny loafers which my dad wears.
“Yes please that would be great. Thanks.”
He takes one of my suitcases and is about to head up the stairs that are on are on my left when instead he goes down one of the corridors on my left and yells:
“Chewy you little dipshit, get here!”
“No he doesn’t have to its fine… I don’t want to put anyone to any trouble.”
“He’s not doing anything productive. I’m Brad by the way.”
“You must be the other roommate.”
“Yeah I suppose I am.”
I’ve honestly got no idea.
He goes up the stairs on my right and beckons for me to follow.
“You’re from Yorkshire aren’t you?”
“Yeah, it’s the accent isn’t it?”
He nods. Brad has a kind of posh accent that you can’t really tell where he is from but you know he is private schools and yet there is something else in his accent is slightly foreign.
“At least you don’t have where you are from? South Africa. Oh you don’t have a fucking accent.”
“You’re from South Africa, that’s awesome.”
“Yeah. It is, most of the time.”
“How come you’re in Scotland?”
“Mr H is my dad.”
I’m not really sure who that is but I smile and agree anyway.
“Wait Brad, what did you want?” The guy Brad has called a dipshit comes running up the stairs.
“Can you get the other suitcase?”
“The one at the bottom of the stairs, Thickie.”
We continue up the stairs and it suddenly clicks in me that I am going to be living here, in these corridors and among these stairs for the next four years. It takes quite a while to truly call Arkansas home but once it clicks in me this is all I’m going to get, I never look back.
“Oi fatso, hurry the shit up!” Brad yells down the stairs and the other guys comes panting up the stairs carrying my biggest suitcase.
“Ben, Henry, Henry, Ben.” This is the first time I hear him being called Henry.
“Cool. I’m presuming this is yours.”
“You from Yorkshire?”
“I have an aunt who lives there.”
“Seriously? I live like 8 miles away in Filey.”
“Oh yeah I’ve been there. Nice place.”
“Hmmm, that’s one way of putting it.”
We drag my suitcases along the corridor and out of nowhere somebody yells:
“CHEWY!” Somebody runs up to Henry and jumps on his back.
“Zook, you weigh a bloody tonne! Get off me!”
“I don’t way as much as you!”
“I’m not taking you down the stairs to house meeting.”
“Yeah you are.”
“We’ve done that once and I don’t really feel like falling down those stairs again.”
Then Zook sees me.
“Wait. Who’s this? I could have sworn you aren’t at dinner?”
“Oh yeah. This is Ben, Ben this Zook who’s a complete weirdo.”
He gave me his best smile and then yells:
“Henry! Charge! To house meeting!”
We go down the stairs, (Zook still on Henry’s back), along a corridor, down some steps and then we enters a massive room which has sixty guys all aged from about 13 to 18 and all shoving each other around and when I came in they all look at me. Everyone is lounging on leather sofas all on top of each other. It seems that no-one has any personal space at all.
“Seems like we finally get a sofa.” Brad mutters to Henry and they sprint and suddenly Henry loses his footing and falls onto the sofa and Zook goes crashing onto the ground. Brad steps over both of them and climbs onto the sofa and beckons for me to sit next to him so I have Henry on one side and Brad on the other. Then Zook squishes in next to Brad and leans across me and takes Henry’s face his hands and says:
“Brad, I swear Chewie’s acne has got worse. Don’t you think?”
Brad gets up close and takes a good look.
“Yes it definitely has. Don’t you ever wash?”
“Yes like three times a day.” He replies, exasperated from between Zook’s hands.
“Hmmm…I think you should squeeze this spot.” Brad prods one on Henry’s forehead. “Oh I think I almost popped it.”
“Seriously? Oh Bradddd, now you’ve made it pus.”
“Ah Ben Middleton Jones, so finally decide to arrive.”
I turns around and great brute of man has enters. He is at least ft. ‘4’ and has a receding blond/going grey hairline and tiny little eyes that look out through square glasses. He is also olive-skinned and has the same accent as Brad. So this is Mr H.
Everyone is staring at me.
“I’m Mr Higgins your housemaster and I can see you’ve met the others in your year. Speaking of which, where is Jeremy?”
They look amongst themselves and turns out none of them know.
“Well I’ll speak to him afterwards. Everyone this is Ben Middleton Jones, our new year ten.”
Once he says that, they all stop staring and get back to annoying each other or texting or whatever they are doing. Mr H began to talk about various house related things and there’s so much to take in and my head is completely spinning with everything that has just happened and is continuing to happen.
About five minutes later the door to the mixed common room slams and someone else runs in.
“Ah Jeremy you’re late. Sit down and I’ll speak to you after.”
He comes over to us and sits down on Zook’s knee and stretches his legs so he is sitting over us. Zook says to him in his best teacher voice:
“Jeremy, you’re late.”
“Yeah Jel, where ya been?” Brad asks as Henry began to tie Jel’s shoelaces together. Jel scuffs Zook over the head and then just replies with a smirk:
“Just been doing yunno…stuff.” He is American, from the Deep South. I wonder how much it would piss him off if I ask him if he is from America then I told him it is the accent. But I don’t because he is huge and seems to be just beef so I shut up.
“What kind of stuff?” Zook asks.
He just smiles sheepishly.
“Go on, tell us!” They look at him with eager eyes.
He avoids eye contact with them and that’s when his eyes meet mine. Some people believe that we meet at least one person that we’ve met in a previous life and I had never believes that up until now. I could have sworn I’ve seen him before, there was something oddly familiar about him but I knew that was virtually impossible. When could I have met him and how? There is no possibility of it. His face drops.
“Who the hell are you?” That look he gave me, there so much authority in his eyes; he is saying this is his territory and he is the alpha male, I never would forget.
“Ben Middleton-Jones.” I squeak. I am literally crapping enough bricks to build a damn sandcastle with and that’s saying something. He seems like the kind of guy who could be in upper sixth. He is at least 6ft. and is incredibly well built and looks like he is the kind of guy who will beat me to a pulp and mash my face in .if I say one wrong thing.
“And how long have you been here for?”
“Ten minutes.” He is giving me that look again.
“Did you put Arkansas as your first choice?”
“Stop scaring him Jel. He’s been here barely anytime at all and no he’s not going to try and take your place or whatever other crap you’re worrying about.”
“Jeremy, can I have a word?”
Jel climbs off us and to speak to Mr H and we are all set free so we go back out the door, up the three steps, back along the corridor and back up the stairs to where my luggage is.
I am in a massive room with Zook, Henry and Jel and Brad is opposite with two other people in my year who I hasn’t met.
“And Ben, that’s your bed.” Zook gestures to the one behind the door. There are two other beds against either wall and one against the backwall.
“Apologies for the smell, Chewie’s not that hygienic.”
“That is not fair! I wash like three times a day!”
“Well you obviously haven’t done it today.” Zook mutters and Henry goes for his knees and brings him the ground.
“Don’t mind them. You’ll soon get used to it.” Brad goes and climbs onto the bunked against the far wall and beckons for me to join him.
“Oh dear, Jel’s left his MacBook unlocks and his Facebook on. What a shame.” Brad says sarcastically and Zook and Henry stop play fighting and look at Brad then at each other.
“Wouldn’t it be a shame if something gets posts on there…?”Zook climbs up next to me and stole the laptop from Brad.
“No seriously, he will be so pissed off…” Henry starts but is drowns out by Zook and Brad planning what they are going to put on Jel’s Facebook page.
“We can’t put that he likes dicks or something because that is very obvious that it is a frape…”
“We could put that he is moving to Gallagher?” Henry suggests and Brad and Zook both stop and look at him.
“Okay, it is just a suggestion. How about we message some of the freaks in our year?”
“You mean like Jay?”
“Oh yeah because that would totally get us in his good books.”
I decide I can’t sit in silence forever. So I tell them my suggestion and for a moment they just look at me then agree mine is the only vaguely good suggestion they’ve had so far. Jel come’s in five minutes later and throws the door open.
“Who the hell posts on Facebook that I think I look like the lovechild of Edward Cullen and Justin Bieber?
Zook and Henry have gone back to their desks and I am unpacking. Brad is still on Jel’s bed, just on his own computer; and they are all trying to look totally innocent.
“Zook, I know it was you.”
Zook looks up at him.
“Me? Why would I frape you?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?”
He stomps over to his bed.
“Brad, get off my bed.”
Brad scrambles off and climbs onto Zook’s bed instead.
“Seriously guys? Who else did you message?”
They look sheepishly at each other.
“43 people have liked my status! And all the girls have says it is true! Do I really look a mixture of Edward Cullen and Justin Bieber?”
They look at each other and nod.
“No of course you don’t look like a mixture of the two best looking teen heartthrobs of the last five years.” Henry says sarcastically.
Jel climbs off his bed and begins to check himself out in the mirror that is stuck to the back of Zook’s bed.
“Maybe I do…”
Zook just rolls his eyes.
“At least you don’t get told everyday that you look like Frodo.”
They all laugh very loudly.
“Or Chewbacca.” Henry adds.
“Zook, I’m afraid you do look like Frodo. Henry, who says you look like Chewbacca?”
“Last year! We are talking about what Star Wars characters we would be because I say I might have a Star Wars 21st and you, Jel Armstrong say I should go as Chewbacca or a Wooki.”
Jel laughs even harder and louder.
“And then you get people to tell me whether I look like a Wooki and everyone says yes!”
Brad and Zook are also laughing a lot.
“Ben, do you think I look like a Wooki?”
Well he is pretty hairy.
“Oh Ben, apologies for the ummm… bad introduction earlier. I’m Jel by the way.”
Yeah I know.
“And he’s a complete arsehole.” Zook adds. “As you have probably already guessed.”
Jel throws a pillow at him.
“It’s the popularity, it goes to his head.” Henry says, gesturing wildly and I nod in agreement.
“Ben, when Jel introduces himself, did he give a you look like this?” Brad does best his impression of the look Jel has given me.
“See! SEE! You DO have a look!”
“Jel, pretending you’ve just seen someone at the bottom of the foot chain sitting in your spot.”
“The bottom of the what?”
“Jay is sitting in your seat.”
He does ‘the look’ and they all get quite over excited.
“That look! The alpha male look!”
“Show me what I do then Zook.” Jel demands.
So Zook did his best impression.
“We’ll point it out everytime you do it.”
“Kay Henry, you do that. Or shall I call you Chewyboy?”
“Don’t you fucking dare!” Henry throws another pillow at Jel and then climbs from his bed onto Jel’s and jumps on him and gets him a headlock.
There is a knock and Mr H pokes his head around the door.
“Benedict, here is your timetable. I hope you lot are doing work and Bradley you should be in your own room. Isaac, get off Facebook and Henry leave Jeremy alone! Sorry, you have to be in a room with this lot Benedict, it won’t be forever.”
“Have fun in your room Brad!” Zook waves him off and Brad sticks up his middle finger.
“Who’s Brad in a room with?” I ask as I put the sheets on my bed.
“Costas who is a Spanish exchange and Gwebe who is really ugly and weird.”
“Sounds like a rave.” I reply sarcastically. “But if Mr H is Brad’s dad then why doesn’t he put his son in with his friends?”
“Mr H doesn’t really like us in case you hadn’t already guessed.”
“Yeah he is going to put you in across the hall but there aren’t enough beds because Gwebe stop being a day pupil so you ended up here instead.” Henry says.
“By the end of three weeks, you might wish you are across there.” Jel says from behind the mirror.
Honestly, I am not planning on complaining. One of the things I that really bothers me though is the physical affection. It just creeps the hell out of me.
That night I can’t get to sleep for hours. I keep tossing and turning in this uncomfy bed in this smelly room and all these unfamiliar people. When I do get to sleep to the sound of someone snoring loudly, I slip into a very blurry dream.
When it fades out of the blur, there’s a beach and a lighthouse. The light house light is on but not spinning and there is a ship on the horizon. The sea is stormy blue and it is just before dawn. There is a red phone box on the corner of the beach and someone is walking across it. I’m watching myself scramble down onto the beach. However I realise its Darren and I’m terrified I’m going to have to watch myself get beaten up by him. Darren is wearing one of those Australian cork hats and I scramble to look over the cliff and I watch Darren say something to me but I don’t hear what. Then he yells:
“Get up you little shites it’s ten to seven.”
I sit up with a start. Where am I again? Wasn’t I at home? Where was mum? Oh yeah. I’m here.
“Ben, we have to be at breakfast at 20 so I’d hurry up.” Jel tells me. “Henry, get out of bed now or I’ll drag you out where the sun don’t shine.”
Henry just crawls back under his duvet. We are late to breakfast and honestly, I’ve never seem so many teenagers in one place all doing the same thing. I like was properly scared. We all sit together at breakfast and only just make it to chapel which consists of lots of standing up and sitting down when different people come in and I’m told in advance that is an Arkansas to sing the him as loudly and raucously as possible. It’s a hymn everyone likes today but I’ve never heard it before. Ever. Then the Chaplin talks and I’m distracted from his awful public speaking skills by Zook and Henry pissing around and I try so hard not to laugh.
I have lessons from quarter to nine until quarter past 12 then lunch then another lesson. My classes begin the following day and the only one I like is chemistry. My classes vary from 10 to 15 people and everyone is about two years ahead of me. Even the dumbest people know more than me yet none of them actually do any work, especially the ones who I seem to be places next to. Basically, I have a lot of catching up to do. Then we have an activity but it changes depending on what day it is. Today I have hockey which definitely the lowlight of my day. I mean, it’s not my fault that I don’t which side of the stick to hit the ball with. Nobody told me. Dinner is at 6 and then we have a house meeting at 6:55, prep from seven to quarter past 8 then free time until the rounds person comes to make sure we’re in bed by ten.
It’s takes me two weeks to get into it and on the second Friday afternoon of term, after two weeks of St Richmond College which are a blur of classes, faces, names, people and places which I forget in an instant, we are sitting on the floor of our room ‘doing prep’ which basically means Henry and Zook are watching cat videos, Jel is playing on his IPad and Brad’s downloading music while I scroll mindlessly through my newsfeed.
“Does anyone have the time?” Brad asks.
“Yeah it’s ummm quarter past eight.” I reply.
“Kay well I gotta go and see my dad before we leave.”
“Wait, where are you going?” Zook asks and they all stand up.
“Christening in the south of France.”
“And when are you coming back?”
“Cool. I gotta go so yeah, love you bro.”
Then he went into hug Jel. And it wasn’t a man-hug with handshakes and slapping each other on the back, it was a proper hug. Please bear in mind dudes in my world do not show physical affection to one another. At all.
“Yeah love you too man.”
What was this, a gay commune?
He worked his way along to me and he went in for a hug but I backed off and I must have given him the funniest look.
“What on earth are you doing?”
“How come you guys are showing so much affection for each other? It’s so…weird. And…”
I didn’t want to be beaten up again.
“Were you going to call us gay?” Jel was giving me that I’ll-mash-you-up-if-you-say-the-wrong-thing look again.
“I’m just not used to it, that’s all.”
“Well you better get used to it.” then Brad put his arms around me and I thought he was going to crush me.
“Okay-I-can’t-breath-I-think-you’ve-broken-a-rib-can-you-let-go-now-please-I-don’t-like-being-touched!” I reply to him but I know he just ignores me.
Then he let me go and grabbed his laptop as he went he said:
“Love you guys.”
To which they all replied:
“Hate you too.” as he disappeared off into his room. As I said, it creeps the hell out of me.
“Ben, if you think that’s bad…” Jel mutters and Zook ruffles my hair.
“Actually. I have a plan for this evening.” Henry says, grabbing his books and textbooks which he hadn’t used at all and threw them on his bed.
Henry mouths something to Zook who nods and whispers it to Jel who also agrees.
“So Ben, how long have you been here for again?” Henry asks.
“Two and half weeks.”
“You are coming to the reels next week aren’t you?”
What was this? Dorm question time?
“Suppose. I mean I wasn’t planning on doing anyone else.”
“Hey losers, I’m going for a shower? Do you guys wanna come?” Jel strips into his boxers so I turn away but the others keep talking to him it’s totally normal which it’s not. I am going for a shower too but not with them. I like my privacy.
I go to pee and then I head downstairs for a shower. I hear voices but I presume their all just, yunno, making polite conversations between the curtains.
I go in and woah! there’s two older guys walking around stark naked. I try not to look but one of them says:
“Oh by the way, these showers are blocked.”
I look down and it is very flooded and the water is very grimy and full of hair and soap and…I don’t want to think about what else in it.
“I think it’s probably hair. But don’t check. If you think that waters bad then the drain will make you chunder.”
I have no idea what chunder means but I smile and agree anyway and I decide to head over to the other showers across the corridor.
There’s no-one in there so I strip into my underwear and it’s only when I’m in the shower I realise there is only one curtain going all the way around. I wonder where the other curtains are.
The door is thrown open and about three people come crashing in.
“Oh crap! Who’s in the shower?” Zook asks. That means the other two people are Jel and Henry.
“Oh that’s fine then.” I hear them say to each other as I turn around to turn the shower on, I hear the curtain open and when I spin back they are all standing there, showering and completely stark naked. I’m so taken aback that I want to grab the nearest anything to cover myself up and that seems to a bottle of shampoo that isn’t mine.
“What the hell are you guys doing?”
They are totally unfazed by the fact they are a bunch of teenage boys showering together which is just wrong on so many levels. So many damn levels.
“I’m trying to shower!”
“And so are we.” Henry says. “Oh and can I have my shampoo that you are covering your knob with?”
I am very reluctant to give it to him but I do and try to maintain some of my dignity as I have my shower. After about a minute I am getting sort of used to it until Henry pisses on Zook so Zook runs out the shower naked and takes Henry’s towel with him. Zook has also taken my towel and Jel’s so it means I have to run along a corridor and up so many stairs then along another corridor butt naked. I was really paranoid it was going to be like in that St Trinians movie when they film me running around and getting lost and putting it on YouTube. But as I am discovering as I sprint back to my room and hope I’m going the right way, real boarding school isn’t like that. Well at least I hope they aren’t filming me and making it viral.
I was sprinting down the wrong corridor and I open a door and almost collide with Peterson, our AHM and I am so embarrassed and I automatically put both hands on my knob.
“Benedict. Where are you going and why aren’t you wearing anything?”
“I ummm…going back to my room.”
“And why aren’t you wearing anything?”
“It’s a…ummm a long story. I am on the year 10 corridor aren’t I?”
He gestures from where he came and I charge down there into our room and after I’ve got on some boxers, I attack Zook with a pillow and then we laugh a lot about my incident with Peterson and for the first time since I’ve arrived at St Richmond College, I genuinely laugh until my ribs hurt. Then Henry scrambles off his bed and grabs his IPod which is charging off Jel’s laptop.
“Ben, do you like the Kaiser Chiefs?” Henry asks as he plugs it into Jel’s enormous speakers. Jel and Zook look at each other.
“We have a song for you.” Then they seem to get it. I know one song by the Kaiser Chiefs which is I predict a riot and I have no idea what it is yet I can relate to all the words. It gets to chorus and I suddenly recognise it from St Trinians but sung by a girl. The other three know it really well and are singing along really loudly and badly and I join in too. Because I’ve never been this far away from home and I don’t plan on going back anytime soon.
A week later on the Saturday night, it is burns night then reels with the whole school and is a small turning point.
We have the first dance which is in groups of three, then the second dance which is in pairs and the third one which is also in pairs. It isn’t the best night of my life but I’ve had worse. A lot worse. The fourth dancer is strip the willow and that is when it all changes.
Everyone is gathering in two lines; girls on the right and boys on the left. I am ushers into place into the centre and before I have time to really get what is going on, I am being spun by a variety of pretty girls. As it goes on, it gets more crazy and violent. I get to the top and take a look at my partner. She is slender, small with bluey black hair that has a streak of purple. I am looking at her and she looks up and looks at me. She smiles and gestures. I am working out what she says when I am suddenly pushed into the middle and I am being spun and thrown about so violently I don’t have time to catch my breath or see where I am going or what I am doing. There is one girl, who spun me really slowly so my partner is waiting for me and as she spun me, our eyes met.
Just for that one moment it is just me and her. She goes off to get spun by another boy and it goes back to violent and crazy. As I am being spun; I saw the most beautiful girl ever. She has coffee colours skin, long dark hair that goes in thick chocolate colours waves with a single braid in it. She spins me and I can’t stop looking at her. The next bit happens very fast.
The stunning girl turns and makes eye contact with me and suddenly someone comes hurtling into me and I lose my footing and land on the floor; all the impact on my face and the next thing I know I am lying on my front on my face on the floor in a (small) pool of blood. I just lie there, not particularly wanting to turn over. The music stops and lots of people rush over to me and try to help me turn over and sit me up but I refuse. I don’t like people touching me and I don’t want any help so I turn myself over and there is a loud gasp. I look up and saw everyone in our year standing and gawping. A number of voices swirl around in the air above me.
“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry! Are you alright?”
“Jay! You freakin retard!”
“I…I didn’t mean to…honestly!”
“You broke his fucking nose!”
So that’s what the searing pain spreading across my face and synapses is. A teacher comes rushing through the crowd and presses an ice pack onto my face and I take it and hold it in place. My breathing pattern suddenly becomes blocks and it all begins to hurt. Really hurt.
“What happened?” the teacher asks. The whole crowd turns to look my partner who is a shade of purple. I’m taking it that is Jay.
“Well…he threw me into him.” She retorts, pointing at someone in the crowd. I look up and everyone turns to look at someone I can’t see. There’s an argument brewing, I can feel it; almost as much as the pain in my nose.
“Umm…no I didn’t.” Says an uncaring boy’s voice who sounds like a total dick. “Are you sure you aren’t drinking again Jay?” The crowd of people ooh and someone mutters ‘burn.’
“Ooh I felt the burn there. Hey kid, can I borrow your ice pack?” Jay asks sarcastically. “Hang on. What is your name?” I throw it at her.
“Yeah Ben, I’m Jay and this is India-Jane.”
“Jay likes sleeping with people’s boyfriends.” says the beautiful one in a bitchy voice who I’m guessing is India-Jane.
“You bitch. Are you calling me a slut?”
“Yes maybe I am.”
“She is.” The boy with the arrogant voice adds.
“Rome. Shut it.” He doesn’t seem to get that though.
“Look bitch. Back off.”
“Don’t you tell me to back off.”
“Oh I will.”
“Don’t you even dare.”
The guy with the arrogant voice decides this is his cue to enter.
“Oh look. It’s your ex. Who do you think he is sleeping with?”
“Rome. SHUT IT!” the two girls chorus. He is right though. Jel is hurrying in with Zook, Henry and Brad in tow. They look at each other. The teacher sitting with me turns and looks at them along with everyone else; taking the attention off Jay, India-Jane and me with my broken nose.
I never see Jay again after that. Not for a long time anyway. I get it drills into me that she is a freak, and not someone I should get myself involves with. I don’t approve of bullying, especially girls like Jay who have done absolutely nothing wrong. If theres one person I should try and be nice to, it’s her.
My mum gets informs by Mr H that I broke my nose so of course she rings in a panic on Sunday. I assure her I’m fine and that I not dying in a corner due to blood loss and yes the med centre are looking after me. Then she manages to slip in that I have the optician and the Orthodontist on Tuesday. Oh. Yay.
So at breakfast on Tuesday I say to Jel who seems to be the most reliable:
“Hey can you tell our English teacher that I’m not going to be there this afternoon because I have the orthodontist/optician?”
“Wait you have braces too?” Zook asks. “High five bro. We can be braces buddies. Or should I call you Traintrack Jones? Because I was calls Retainer Zook when I first get my retainer and then…”
“Okay Zook we don’t need a full explanation.” Brad says over him, shutting him up.
“I think Traintrack Jones is quite long winds for a nickname. I’m gonna get some juice does anyone want some?” Jel asks the table.
“Yes please. Or you could be just TJ.” Henry points out and it’s sticks like chewing gum to my blazer.
The actual appointment is worse than I imagine. I leave after chapel and miss English which I like because it meant we muck around for an hour and I go for what feels like hours and hours of driving in this stupid taxi. I have the orthodontist first which meant lying back for ages in chair while some bald guy pokes around with my braces and then the optician spends an hour telling me that these glasses are much stronger than the last pair and they should last me another two years at least. I preferred these ones to the last pair which were very thick because my eyesight wasn’t that great and they were little square glasses and I used to spend an awful lot of time taping them up in the dead of night after Darren the school bully had snapped them so my mum would never know and make me visit the opticians again to get after new ones. I also didn’t want her to see because then she would kick up a big fuss about the bullying and that would have just made it worse.
When I get back I stomp back to my room and find Jel and Henry sitting on the floor watching some cat video’s on YouTube. I dump my bag and sit down to join them.
“TJ! Your back! How is it wherever you went?” Jel asks.
“How’s your 20×20 vision?”
Henry the insensitive bastard.
I look over at Henry and give him two middle fingers.
“Ow Jel! That is bloody painful!”
Jel kicks him the shins. Good.
“What are guys watching?”
Zook sits down to join us.
“Have you guys seen two girls one cup?”
They both nod.
“I bet TJ hasn’t seen it.”
“I’ve seen like the first three seconds of it but I felt pretty ill so I stopped.”
Don’t watch it whatever you do please. It’s one of the most disturbing videos I’ve ever seen.
“Or have you seen that video when the girl eats the used Tampon?”
They just look at him.
“What the hell do you do in your free time I really don’t want to know.” Jel mutters. “Oh TJ, by the way, I’m presuming these two vaginas haven’t given you the English yet?”
I shake my head.
“I knew it.”
He gets up and takes a piece of paper from the junk yard he calls his desk.
“It’s what we have to read for English because we’re going to be studying one of them for our exam next year.”
“Of mice and men…1984…to kill a mockingbird-” I read out with a sense of impending doom.
“Which is the most boring book in the universe.”
“Jel when have you of all people read To Kill a Mockingbird?” Henry asks.
“At my school in the states, we are made to watch the film because it is part of our culture or something.”
Then I realise it is double sided. That’s the low point of my day. It consists of 35 books and we have to read all of them. So at lunch the next day, the four of us go to the library to wreak havoc and hunt out four copies of The Lord of the Rings The Fellowship of the Ring and we drag Brad along to help us because he knows what we are looking for. He says he’d come once he’d finished socialising so until then we are on our own and causing chaos and stressing out the librarian.
“So what are getting again?” Zook asks in his carrying voice and Henry shrugs his shoulders as seven seniors all turns around and shoosh them.
I am about to answer but Jel who has been charming up the librarian to help us pokes his head around the door and says:
“Children! I found it!” in his best female school teacher voice and he beckons us to join him.
Basically, we are kicked out the library. Jel gets us to all sit around him and he starts to read us the first page of Lord of the Rings the Return of the King which is entirely the wrong book and gets very excited most of the way down the first page and starts shouting about the beacons being lit. Then Brad comes to help us and throws a book at Jel’s head which Jel throws back, misses Brad and hits a very neatly piled stack of books which all fall over and knock over a great many other things too in a kind of domino effect. Then we are in trouble.
It turns out that the book Brad has thrown at Jel’s head is the right one but we discover that after we have been kicked out and given a big telling off by the captain of the library (who thinks he is so important) for being too noisy and causing too much havoc and stressing out the poor librarians who already has enough to deal with without five year 10 boys who seem hellbent on causing as much chaos as possible. Then he works out who Brad is and starts smiling very smugly as he had threatens to put us in DT but decides just to tell Mr H instead.
“How are we stressing out the librarians?” Jel asks as we head off to our next lesson.
“Yeah what exactly do they have to deal with?” Henry adds. “Apart from us?”
“The Dewey system. I hear that’s very stressful, putting books in order all day.” Zook says.
“And when you organise them in piles then a retard knocks them over.” I add.
“Thanks Ben. I didn’t mean to knock them over. If Brad hasn’t moved his head-”
“This may surprise you Jel but most normal people don’t like being hit in the head with books.”
Brad is the only one who isn’t finding this funny and he tells us later how much he is panicking about the right bollocking he is going to get into from his dad. And oh boy he does.
We came out of English on Thursday, the 7th February. I always remember the date. It seems to be cements in there as the day I, Ben TJ Roderick Walker-O’Reilly Middleton Jones ruins someone’s life. It isn’t intentional, it just kinda happens.
Thursday is the one day a week we go to lunch together (Henry, Zook, Jel and I.) and we always wait for Brad then go to lunch and would always go and do something afterwards like go to the library, school shop or often just sit the refectory and chat and muck around until there is only us left. And every Thursday Jel will be invited to go along with his in-crowd and every Thursday he says no.
Today however is different. We come out of English and end up waiting like 15 minutes for Brad who eventually comes out at like half one because he has been talking to his teacher about the mock exam he has missed and if it meant anything and what book to read next etc etc etc. So we get to lunch and it is completely crowded and there is nowhere to sit for five hungry boys. After we have got lunch and queue for ages, the only seats are on a table with two Chinese people. About 10 minutes later they leave and we have peace and quiet. I go to get water and when I come back there are like ten girls at our table and I struggle to actually sit let alone get back to my seat.
“Celine. Let Ben have his seat back.” Jel tells the one in my seat and she obliges. Henry is bright red and I am sure I not the only who has noticed.
“Wait, who are you?” The Chinese looking one with the American accent brandishes a manicured fingernail in my direction.
“Ohhh, you’re the other Arkansas boy. I’m Valentina.” She puts out her hand, as if she wants me to kiss it. So I shake it.
“This is Celine and Lutra” She goes around the table, gesturing vaguely. On the scale of who is the hottest, I’d say it goes Lutra, Celine then Valentina. I think Valentina thinks she is the most stunning thing to walk this earth and she ummm…isn’t. But I’m not going to be the one to tell her that. Henry obviously has a thing for Celine who I think must have been Swedish or something because she is very pale and blond and icy.
“Wait, did you go to Filey High?” Valentina says.
How the hell does she know that?
“I use to know Elena Rockwell.”
Oh damn. I laugh nervously.
“How did you know her?”
“I met in year 8 at the scholarship weekend here.”
I remember there had been a massive hoohah about her going. She was the richest and poshest girl in our year. She wasn’t necessarily the most popular but she knew how to spread gossip when she wants to and she came back from Gordonstoun every summer with an even posher accent and more designer clothing than ever.
“You do know she went to Gordonstoun right?”
“Of course. I have known her since I was five and she does come back every year.”
People used to ship us because we were the ‘posh kids.’ Notice the past tense here.
And I’ve heard all about you.” She says viciously and I sink into my chair and begin to panic. What does Elena know about me and what’s she told Valentina? Actually I really don’t want to ask or know.
Celine places a finger on Valentina’s lips.
“Save the reunion stuff for later please. Changing the subject, Valentina, has that ugly kid there. Has he ever got with anyone?” Celine asks.
“You mean Gwebe?” Jel says.
“He did.” Lutra replies boredly. Everyone stop at look at her.
“Yeah when the hell did Gwebe ever get with anyone ever?”
“Year 8.” She told us.
“With who?” Henry asks, flabbergasts.
“Some chick I am in a room with. Can’t remember her name.”
“Maybe it’s time he get with someone again.” Valentina suggests but not in her usual purr. Her voice is loud and in control and it stops everything we are doing and draws us all in to listen.
“What do you mean?” Jel asks; the first one to speak.
“Get him a girlfriend.” She replies firmly.
“Yes. All you Arkansas boys.”
“In fact.” Lutra decides to add in. “I bet you guys can’t get him a girlfriend.”
So this involves all of us now. Great.
“You can’t can you?” Valentina mocks.
These next few words I didn’t mean to say and I wonder what would have happens if we had ignored them and walks away instead.
Valentina comes up to me and whispers:
“Do it. Or I’ll expose you.”
I shift uneasily in my chair.
“How much would you be willing to bet?”
The other girls look at me as if I have fallen from the sky. Valentina just grins like an evil Cheshire cat.
“Cut it out both of you. Come on TJ lets go.”
“No I’m serious. How much would you be willing to bet?” I repeat.
“To bet?” They look amongst themselves for a moment. The guys just look at me. But they aren’t angry. At least I hope they aren’t.
“If you win Ginger boy; well you choose…” Her voice is a mixture of seductiveness and something else I can’t name. “But if you lose… Well, what do you think girls?”
All of Arkansas are now seats watching me and Valentina while the girls consults amongst themselves.
“We get to pierce your ear. The gay side.”
We get closer and consult.
“Well Ginger this little scheme yours sounds like a bit of fun. I’m up for it.” Zook whispers.
“I’m in. War against Valentina? Why not.”
“Brad. You in?”
He is the only one who looks uneasy.
“Fine. But if it all goes wrong, I’m not taking the blame.”
It won’t go wrong. What could go wrong about it?
“Jel?” We all turns to him, some more hopefully than others (Brad.)
He pauses for moment.
“Fine. Let’s do this.”
We come back out of our huddle and Valentina looks at us, waiting for an answer.
“If you lose, you have to get with Gwebe yourself.” Jel tells her. She looks very uneasy for a moment.
“Game on.” I stick my hand out into the middle.
“Spit on it.” Jel mutters.
I did and after a look of disgust, she copies and put her hand in mine and we shake on it and as we do, she mutters:
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep your little secret, for now anyway.”
So I reply.
“May the best man or women win.”