Beatrice finished reading her story to the class. The room was quiet for a moment. Emily couldn’t take her eyes from Beatrice’s face.
‘Very nice, Beatrice—I liked the way you left it on a positive note,’ said Mr Garcia. ‘Okay, so who is next?’
At the end of the lesson Beatrice was the last to leave the room. As she made her way down the corridor she saw Emily leaning against a locker. She drew near and Emily lifted her head.
‘Hi,’ she said. ‘It’s Beatrice, right?’ Emily voice was soft.
Bea nodded. Her throat had gone dry.
Emily took a deep breath. ‘I’ve seen you in class. Do you mind if we talk?’
Beatrice shook her head. ‘I was just on my way to chemistry.’
Emily hesitated. ‘That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I’m sorry to bother you, but I—well—I was wondering if we could—ummm—if you wanted to—to be my lab partner. You know, for the assignment.’
Emily pushed a strand of dark hair behind her ear. Her fingernails were painted a shiny deep purple to match the streak in her hair. Around her neck she wore a long chain with a bunch of charms gathered at the bottom. They jingled when she moved.
Beatrice had overheard some girls in the corridor talking about Emily. They said she was a loser, but they suddenly stopped talking as Beatrice walked past. She could feel their eyes drilling into her back. ‘She’s one of them too,’ she had heard them whisper.
But to Beatrice, Emily just looked like a lonely girl hoping that Beatrice would be her friend.
‘So how about it? Lab partners?’ Emily’s smile was a little unsure. It was the first time Beatrice had ever seen her smile.
‘Sure,’ she replied. ‘That would be great.’
Emily’s smile relaxed and Beatrice suddenly realised how pretty she was.
‘Cool, well—I guess I should leave you in peace then.’ She half turned to go but Beatrice reached out and touched her arm.
‘You don’t have to go. We could, you know, walk together and talk—about the assignment.’ Beatrice was suddenly the one feeling nervous.
Emily and Beatrice walked silently down the corridor. Neither knew what to say now they had actually spoken to each other. Emily was wracking her brain for something clever to say but all she could think of were inane things. She so badly wanted to impress Beatrice. The corridor was a hive of activity and other students streamed in both directions past the two girls.
Beatrice stole a glance at the dark haired girl beside her. She felt a strange energy coming from Emily. Beatrice was deep in thought, trying to remember when she had last felt energy like this.
‘So—how are you enjoying school?’
‘Sorry—what?’ Emily had spoken so softly it was hard to hear her over the noisy corridor.’
‘How are you liking your new school?’ Emily raised her voice a little.
‘Oh—it’s okay, I guess.’ Beatrice smiled quickly at Emily. ‘How about you?—I mean, not your new school—but—ummm, you know, just school.’
‘I hate school. I mean, not studying and stuff—I just don’t like being at school.’ Emily thought about how often she had gone home from school and cried into her pillow. ‘I like English,’ she quickly added. She didn’t want Beatrice to get a bad impression of her.
‘Yes, I like English too. Mr Garcia seems nice—and he’s enthusiastic.’
‘He’s the coolest teacher in the school.’ Emily suddenly blushed. ‘I mean—well, you know.’
Beatrice looked at her new friend again. There was suddenly a change in her expression. Beatrice looked up to see three girls blocking their way. Anar was in the middle with her arms folded across her chest.
‘You can’t go this way.’ She flicked her straight black hair behind her ear. A cluster of bangles jangled on her forearm.
‘Why not?’ Beatrice replied.
‘It’s blocked.’ Anar stared at Beatrice.
‘But our classroom is just through there.’ Beatrice pointed past Anar’s shoulder.
‘You have to go another way.’
‘Come on, Beatrice. Let’s go around.’
‘You should listen to your creepy friend. Go on, run away.’
‘No, we’re going past.’ Beatrice grabbed Emily’s hand and pushed past Anar.
‘You are soooo dead,’ Anar called after them. Her eyes were dark with anger.
Beatrice kept a firm grip of Emily’s hand until they were around the corner.
‘What was that all about?’
‘She’s always been like that. I usually try to avoid her. Anar can make life really unpleasant for you if she wants.’
Beatrice stopped and turned to face Emily. She was still holding her hand.
‘You can’t let her push you around,’ she said softly.
Emily was silent. Her shoulders were tense.
‘I am alone,’ she said in a whisper after a few moments.
‘No you’re not,’ Beatrice replied. ‘There are two of us now.’