Thursday fragments 18

I started school the next day while Mum and Dad tried to find a house to rent.  It was just like starting my first day of kindergarten all over again. I sat there looking at my feet while Mum talked with the school headmaster. He looked like he was a hundred years old and as dry and gnarled as all those trees along the road. His eyes were cold and grey as they looked at me without interest.

When Mum left I was taken to my new classroom by a lady with shoes that clicked loudly on the tile floor of the corridor. She knocked at the classroom door and pushed it open to be greeted by the noise of strange children chattering and giggling. I was taken across the classroom to meet my new teacher, Mr Anderson, who was sitting at his desk reading a book. Slowly, the class started to become quieter as some of the children noticed a new girl amongst them. I could hear the ones at the front whispering to each other and I just knew they were all looking at me standing there in my unfamiliar school uniform.

When the lady left, Mr Anderson stood up with me at the front of the classroom. He held his hand up until everyone was quiet and looking toward the front. ‘Class, this is Molly White. She has come to join us here in 4KA so I hope you will all make her welcome.’ I knew my face was bright red, I could feel it burning and I heard some boys toward the back of the room whispering to each other. I just wanted to run away and I knew tears were starting to form in my eyes. ‘Molly, there is an empty desk over near the window. You can sit there. Okay class, it is time now for maths so I want you to open your books at chapter three and we will have a look at number lines.’

I slid into my seat and opened the book Mr Anderson had handed me, but everything looked blurry and instead of number lines I saw rivers of tears running across the page. Cool autumn sunlight came through the window and I could see wisps of cloud drifting by in the pale blue sky as Mr Anderson’s voice droned on about something to do with numbers and lines and hopping from one to four. I thought about the railway line and wondered how many hops it would take before I got back to Stephanie.

At lunchtime I sat on a bench in the playground. It was all bitumen and there was no grass, just lines marked out for all sorts of games. It was like one of those unhappy playgrounds I had seen when we were driving through the city. I looked at the sandwiches in my lunchbox, but I didn’t feel at all hungry because my stomach was tied up in a little knot. I started to think of Stephanie again and began to cry.

After a while I noticed someone had sat on the bench next to me. ‘Are you okay?’ I heard a little voice say. I could see a pair of white cotton socks and dusty black school shoes poking out shyly from beneath a checked school dress.

‘I thought you looked sad,’ the voice said again. ‘I wondered if you would like some of my vegemite sandwich.’ The voice belonged to a little girl, about the same size as me with a face covered in freckles. ‘My name is Ellen,’ she said.

‘I’m Molly,’ I said quietly as I finally found my tongue.

‘Don’t be sad, Molly. School isn’t that bad when you get used to it. Do you want to come and play handball?’

‘I don’t know how to,’ I said.

‘Well that’s okay, I can teach you.’

She took my hand and we walked across to where a crowd of girls were lined up watching two other girls hitting a tennis ball to each other with their hands. As we stood in the line, Ellen explained that I was meant to hit the ball to the other person with my hand, but it had to bounce before going over the line. If you missed it or hit the ball outside the squares then you were out and had to go back to the end of the line. Everyone wanted to get to the king’s square.

Soon it was my turn and I stood in the square opposite a big girl with short hair. Suddenly there was a tennis ball flying towards me and I threw my hand at it but missed completely. Some of the girls giggled as I walked off to the end of the line.

‘Don’t worry, Molly,’ said Ellen. ‘You’ll soon get the hang of it.’

Before I had a chance to have another go, the bell went and we had to go back into class. ‘Let’s play again tomorrow, Molly,’ Ellen said. ‘You’re going to have a lot of fun.’ I wasn’t so sure that I would be able to hit the ball so I was glad that the bell went and saved me from further embarrassment.

The classroom was kept warm by a log fire. Ellen was a fire monitor and she asked Mr Anderson if I would be allowed to help her gather some logs from a box outside the classroom before we went back to our desks.

Ellen told me there was an old man that worked at the school and one of his jobs was to keep the firewood box stacked with wood for the classrooms. She said he was a bit creepy and that I should keep away from him, but there was no sign of the caretaker as I followed Ellen to the back of the classroom. She skipped along and seemed so happy and that made me feel a bit lighter, but the logs were really heavy and I got dirt and little bits of bark stuck all over my school dress when I carried them back to class.

The fire was in an iron box, like a little stove, and I watched Ellen carefully open the door and rake among the embers with a poker. When the flames were dancing around like little devils, I passed her a log and she put it on top of the fire. A shower of sparks and smoke rose into the air and me cough.

When I got back to my desk, I saw that my hands were all dirty. But I wasn’t game to ask Mr Anderson if I could go to the bathroom to wash them so I tried to wipe them clean on my school dress. My hair smelled all smoky as well and I started to worry about what Mum would say when I got home.

Then I began thinking about home and I realised that I didn’t even know where home was, or if we had one. I looked out the window at the clouds again to try and stop myself from crying, but a couple of teardrops still leaked out and fell on my cheeks.

I looked around and saw Ellen watching me. She gave me a little smile and I tried to smile back but my lips wouldn’t move in the right shape. Things improved later in the afternoon, though, when we had some quiet reading time. I picked a book out of a box that was on the floor and we were allowed to sit on the mat in the middle of the classroom and read. Ellen came and sat next to me and held my hand.

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By Light of the Third Moon – Part 2

Bea sat and looked up at the stars. Their twinkling brightness in the autumn sky was comfortingly familiar. At least one thing wasn’t all screwed up.
The moon was large on the horizon.
Mist drifted slowly over the precipice, shrouding the valley far below.
Bea couldn’t remember how she’d gotten here but she knew she was being followed. There wasn’t much time. She had to keep moving.
Then she heard it. At first it was just a dull drumming on the breeze. It got louder. Wind swirled the trees violently.
A voice came from behind her and Bea quickly stood up in fright.
A woman appeared out of the mist, reaching out her hand. She wore a long red velvet gown with strange symbols embroidered in golden thread. The gown closely fitted the elegant, shapely figure beneath. A wild tangle of dark curls hung over the woman’s shoulders.
Bea found herself reaching out. She had no control of her own body.
Her heart was racing.
As the woman moved closer Bea was pressed back against the rock wall. She couldn’t move. All she could do was watch the red dress coming closer. The golden patterns swirled hypnotically in the mist.
Bea felt the woman’s breath against her cheek. She could smell her perfume. The woman stroked Bea’s hair and then closed her eyes as she began chanting.
‘Forces higher
I call on thee
Awake this child
From her dream.’
‘Who are you? Who are you?’ Bea cried out.
There were tears on her cheeks.
The woman hesitated for a moment then began to fade.
Bea woke in the darkness of her bedroom.
She was shivering uncontrollably.
Through the curtains she could see clouds slowly clearing to reveal a full moon. Stars were beginning to appear and the bright moonlight cast shadows on the ground below. As Bea laid her head back on the pillow a shadow moved silently away from the house.

Elizabeth and Darcy

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At school the following week we began reading parts from Jane Austen’s novels. Mr Norris let the group move all the chairs and tables to one side and we sat on the floor in the centre of the room. We each had to read a page and then pass the book to someone else at random to read until everyone had taken a turn.

It was nice hearing the stories being read out loud, but each time the reader got to the end of the page I could feel the tension in the bottom of my stomach as I waited to be the next person picked. The book passed around the room and then it was David’s turn.

He took the book and started reading confidently. It was the ball scene in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Darcy was approaching Elizabeth to ask for a dance. David kept pausing for emphasis, just as though he was acting out the part rather than just reading it, and whenever Darcy spoke to Elizabeth, David would look straight at me. When he reached the bottom of the page, David reached over and handed me the book.

‘It’s your turn,’ he said.

I opened to the page where he had left the bookmark. I took a deep breath as I looked at the words on the page. Elizabeth and Darcy were still dancing, but Elizabeth had rebutted all of his approaches so far and was saying something about Wickham. I tried to speak but it came out in a whisper. I paused and took another deep breath.

‘It’s okay, Molly,’ said Mr Norris, ‘Just take your time.’

I looked up and he was smiling at me kindly. I turned my eyes back down to the book and started reading again, trying to sound confident but I could hear my voice wavering and I knew I wasn’t doing justice to Elizabeth’s remarks.

Eventually I got to the end of the page and looked for Rose and handed her the book. She smiled and squeezed my hand as she took it from me and then started reading.

Once everyone in the class had finished their turn, Mr Norris stood up and asked us what we thought was going on here. David was the first one to put his hand up. ‘Yes, David?’ said Mr Norris.

‘I think they both like each other, but neither is willing to admit it yet. Darcy knows he likes her, but she has developed a prejudice against him for some reason and so she is pretending to herself that she doesn’t like him. I think they will get together in the end.’ He didn’t take his eyes off me the whole time he spoke.

‘Thank you, David. That is pretty insightful, although we should watch out for spoilers. Does anyone else have a view?’ He looked around the group, but nobody spoke up. ‘Molly White, how about you? What do you think is going on here?’

I had to take another deep breath and stop my heart from racing. Why did Mr Norris have to single me out? ‘Ummm…,’ I began hesitantly. I had an idea in my mind but it was hard to form it into words with everyone looking at me. ‘Ahhhh…, I think, ummm, that Jane Austen is trying to make a statement about, ummm, relationships between men and women.’ I started to warm up and feel more confident as the idea solidified in my mind. ‘I think she is trying to breakdown stereotypes that a woman has to say ‘yes’, just because a man asks her.’ I looked up at David.

‘That is an excellent analysis, Molly,’ said Mr Norris. ‘You have struck right at the heart of the theme we will be exploring throughout the term. Now, does anyone else have anything to add?’

Rose leaned over and squeezed my hand again. ‘Molly, you were wonderful!’ she whispered. I smiled at her and felt a flood of warmth in my chest.

‘Thanks, Rose,’ I whispered back.

‘Okay, well I don’t think we have time for any more today. Make sure you have finished ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by the end of the week because next week we are starting ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Now we had better put the chairs and tables back and you can have an early lunch.’

I stood and started to pick up some chairs. ‘Here, let me carry that for you,’ said David as he tried to take the chairs from my hands.

‘Thanks, but I can carry them.’

‘I know you can, but I just wanted to help.’ I let him take one of the chairs off my pile, and while that made it easier to carry, I didn’t want to admit that to him.

So many boys

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When Friday night came, I put on my best skirt and brushed and curled my hair. Mum then dropped me off at the hall where the youth group was held and kissed me goodbye as I hopped out of the car.

‘Have fun, Molly. I will pick you up at eight,’ she called behind me. I waved my hand without turning around as I walked toward the old brick building that stood next to the chapel of the church. When I saw a group of kids sitting around the front steps of the hall I suddenly felt really nervous and started to wish I hadn’t dressed so differently from everyone else. I didn’t know any of them and they just stared at me as I walked toward the group.

‘Hi, I was looking for Debbie Long,’ I said, trying to sound brave and confident but hearing the shaky softness of my own voice and wishing I was stronger.

‘She’s inside.’ One of the kids pointed inside the doorway, so I said ‘thanks’ and walked between them to go inside.

The hall was a rectangle with wooden floorboards and a stage at one end. There was a picture of the queen on one wall and the other wall was covered in posters that some of the kids must have made. There was a group of about a dozen teenagers sitting around in a circle and holding hands. Their heads were bowed and one of them was saying a prayer. I stood there awkwardly and waited for them to finish.

Debbie noticed me when she lifted her head and came bounding over to take my hand.

‘Come and meet the gang,’ she said brightly. I followed her nervously, feeling out of place and wishing I had never come. ‘This is Molly everyone, she’s coming to join us. She sings and writes poetry.’ I felt myself blushing from embarrassment. I should have expected something like that from Debbie but I thought she might be gentler for my first time.

‘Molly, I want you to meet everyone. You know Rose, of course, and this is Bruce, and Anne…’

Debbie went around the group and introduced me to everyone. Each one of them stood up and said ‘hello’ until there was only one guy left sitting on the ground. I hadn’t noticed him at first because I was so nervous, but now I saw that he had short sandy hair and looked a little shy. ‘… and this is Andrew. Andrew, this is the Molly I have been telling you about.’

Andrew stood up and I realised he was much taller than I had thought. He made me feel even shorter than usual as he reached out his hand. As our fingers met, I half expected him to kiss my hand like David had done, but instead he shook it gently but firmly. His skin was cool against my hot fingers, and I looked up into the most dazzling blue eyes I had ever seen. They were so hypnotic that I found myself staring into them for longer than I should have. Suddenly Andrew smiled and my heart started racing. ‘I’m really pleased to meet you, Molly. Debbie has told me so much about you, and I’m sure you’re going to enjoy being part of our group.’ I gave a little smile back, but I was too flustered to say anything. His voice was as gentle and smooth as his hand, and I realised that he wasn’t shy at all, just… I searched for the right word, confident? Controlled? Or something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He let go of my hand and I stood there awkwardly, realising everyone had been watching us.

Debbie suddenly put her arm around me. ‘Come and sit, we were just about to do some singing.’

I sat on the floor between Debbie and Rose. The rest of the group spread around us in a circle. Andrew was sitting directly opposite me and he picked up a guitar and started strumming for a few moments. Then he lifted his head and looked straight at me as he sang. All the others joined in after the first verse, but I didn’t know the song so I just sat there with my eyes hypnotised by Andrew’s gaze.

When the song finished, Andrew held the guitar up. ‘Who else knows how to play the guitar?’

‘Molly can,’ Debbie leapt in straight away.

I felt so embarrassed that my face was burning as I tried to explain how I didn’t really know how to play properly, but Andrew stood up and brought the guitar over to me.

‘Whatever you do, it will be beautiful,’ he said.

I sat with my legs crossed and placed the guitar on my lap. I tried to remember how Shawn’s song went and I tentatively strummed a chord. It sounded okay, so I strummed a few more times and tried to find the rhythm. I was too embarrassed to look up, so I kept my head down and looked at the guitar and tried to pretend that I knew what I was doing. Then the words came to me and I opened my mouth to sing, ‘Can you imagine anything…’

My voice sounded hollow and thin in my ears and my fingers stumbled a few times, but I managed to get through the song and then looked up. Everyone in the group was staring at me. Some had their mouths open and I wished the ground would open up and swallow me. I could feel the tears coming and I was suddenly upset because I hadn’t been sad in ages and now Debbie had embarrassed me in front of all her friends. I was about to put the guitar down and run out of the hall, when Andrew leant over to take it from my hands.

‘That was so beautiful,’ he said kindly. Suddenly everyone started clapping and talking all at once and I couldn’t believe that they had actually enjoyed what they’d heard. I thought they were just being nice, but they made it believable and I started to smile as the tears went away.

Just another day at school

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When I got to my locker I found David was standing in front of it again with his own locker door open. He had the locker next to mine, but he was talking to a friend instead of getting his books out.

‘Hi David, can I please get to my locker,’ I said quietly.

David turned around and grinned at me, then stepped aside.

‘Why if it isn’t mademoiselle,’ he said, ‘What’s the rush, belle petite rousse?’

‘I have to get to class,’ I blushed.

‘So do I. Why don’t you let me walk with you? I can show you the way.’

‘It’s okay, I know where to go.’ I closed my locker door and started walking away down the corridor, but then David appeared right beside me.

‘So what brings you to our fair school?’

‘Oh, ummm… we just moved here.’ I didn’t really know why I lied, but I also didn’t want to tell him I had been at the other high school before in case he knew some of the kids from there.

‘I have to go now,’ I said as I reached the door to my classroom.

David put his arm across the door and blocked my way. ‘I’ll see you later, l’amour de la vie.’  He brushed a stray strand of hair from my face and stepped to one side with a bow. I rushed past and sat in my seat feeling flustered.

‘Where have you been all morning?’ asked Debbie.

‘Oh, gosh, ummm… I went to the library to get some books.’

‘So that’s why your face is all red?’

‘Oh, is it? Ummm… I was just running.’ I opened my textbook and pretended to be looking closely at the words, but I was aware that Debbie was still looking at me curiously when the teacher walked into the room.

‘Okay ladies and gentleman. Algebra…’

I opened my notebook and wrote down a little verse that had popped into my head,

 

‘In that moment between breaths,
No more clouds, but light
Shining brightly, clear beauty.’

 

I looked at my words for a moment then closed my notebook and quickly opened my maths book. Then I noticed Debbie look away. ‘Oh my gosh! Did she see what I had written?’ I went red from embarrassment but tried to concentrate on what my maths teacher was saying.

‘To solve an equation, you must find the common factors and cancel them…’

I needed to pay attention more, because I really had no idea what he meant. Debbie leant towards me and said, ‘Don’t worry, Molly. I can help you later.’

I looked at her and smiled. She really was my best friend.

After class, Debbie followed me outside and pounced on me straight away.

‘What were you really doing before class?’

‘I told you, I was in the library.’

‘So how come I saw you walking with David?’

‘Oh, ummm… he followed me from my locker. I was trying to get rid of him.’

‘That’s not what it looked like to me,’ she said. She looked thoughtful for a moment then added, ‘Say, why don’t you join us on Friday night? Rose and I go to youth group for our church. It’s a lot of fun and hardly religious at all. We play music and do lots of stuff… like reading poetry.’

‘Oh, I’d love to Deb. That sounds like fun.’ I was glad she had changed the subject.

Falling in love with Jane Austen

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The next lesson was English and I found myself sitting next to Rose this time because Debbie was in a different class. I had found it hard to get to know Rose, and I wasn’t even sure if she liked me or not because we never talked that much. I kept worrying about it. I wondered if maybe Rose was really shy like me and was just overshadowed by Debbie. I decided to make more of an effort to get Rose to like me, but I wasn’t sure what I should do. Maybe if I tried to be more like Debbie then that would work.

‘Isn’t it great being back at school?’ I said, trying to sound bright, just like Debbie.

‘It’s okay, I guess.’

‘Well I’m excited.’ Rose looked at me funny and was about to say something when the teacher walked into the classroom.

‘Good morning class. I’m sorry that I’m late. For those that don’t know me, my name is Mr Norris.’

I groaned. Why did he have to follow me here when I was trying to start all over again?

‘I think I see some familiar faces, so hello to you, and welcome everyone to Year 11 English.’

I looked around the room and all the kids were sitting up straight and paying attention to him. It was completely different from my old high school.

‘We have a full program of study this year, but there will be three main strands. First of all, we will be studying the novels of Jane Austen.’

I sat up and suddenly started paying attention. Once again Mr Norris seemed to know exactly what I was interested in.

‘There will be a major essay and a creative piece due at the end of Term One. Then we will take what we have learned from Jane Austen into the world of debate. Ultimately, I will be selecting a team to take on our colleagues at that other high school across town.’

He paused and looked around the class, and then his eyes fell on me. I quickly looked down at my desk because I knew there was no way I was ever going to get involved in a debating team, particularly if it meant coming up against those kids from my old school when I had only just escaped from them.

‘For the rest of the year after that,’ Mr Norris continued, ‘We will be studying King Lear and then putting on a performance for the Christmas concert.’

He stood and looked at the class with his black beady eyes, but I thought they looked kinder and more eager than I remembered them.

After school, I walked out to the front gate with Debbie and we talked about our first day at school. I told her how excited I was that we were studying Jane Austen, but she was more interested in having been able to catch up with all her friends.

I met Mum at the school gate. ‘How was your first day of school?’ she asked.

‘Fantastic!’ I replied, and jumped in the car.

All the way home I told her about what we were doing in English for the year, but I didn’t tell her about that boy near my locker.

When I got home that night I finished reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’. My head was so full of Elizabeth and Darcy that I rushed to the library as soon as I got to school the next morning and borrowed a different Jane Austen novel. I was so eager to start reading that I sat at a table in the library and read the first chapter rather than meeting my new friends outside. I loved the way the words were so soft and gentle, and while I enjoyed the romance, I sensed there was some other message in there that I needed to figure out.

The copy of the book I borrowed from the library had illustrations in it and I fell in love immediately with the elegant dresses the characters wore. I thought if I tied a ribbon around the middle of my long white Juliet dress then it would look just like the real thing from a Jane Austen novel. I decided that I would try that with my dress on the weekend and I would have a go at doing my hair in that style as well. I studied the pictures closely and tried to work out how they got their hair tied up on top of the head like that. I could do that with a couple of ribbons as well, and with my naturally curly hair it should be easy to leave a couple of curls dangling down either side of my face. Mum should be able to help because she had lots of ribbons in her sewing room. I just needed to remember to ask her when I got home.

The bell rang and I quickly packed the book in my bag and hurried out of the library. I had five minutes to get some things from my locker before I had to get to my next class so I ran down the stairs as fast as I could.

The way he kissed my hand

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I was dreading the end of school holidays. As the last week of the break drew nearer I began to feel sick each morning. My stomach was churning so much that I couldn’t eat breakfast and I had to spend a long time in the bathroom.

Mum talked about taking me to see a doctor, but then she decided that a change of school would be good for me. A few days later she told me she had enrolled me in the same high school as Debbie and Rose. Once I found that we would be sharing a lot of the same classes I stopped being sick in the morning.

By the time the first day of school came around I was actually excited and looking forward to starting school again. I was a senior now and Debbie and Rose met me at the school gate. We walked towards the red brick building together. Debbie seemed to know everybody and she introduced me to all of her friends as we walked along. I didn’t feel like the outsider anymore and nobody laughed at my red hair or freckles. I even found myself smiling and laughing with the other girls.

In the half hour before the bell rang for the first class of the year, Debbie entertained everyone with stories about her holiday at the beach. Some of the stories were so funny that I wondered if we had even been at the same beach together.

As usual, Debbie didn’t stop talking as I followed her down the corridor to the classroom. We sat next to each other for the first lesson and the teacher assigned everyone their lockers and a list of textbooks that we would need for each subject. We were then given ten minutes to find our lockers, take the keys from the lock, and get back to the classroom.

‘Come on, Molly, our lockers are just around the corner so we can be quick,’ said Debbie. I followed her around the corner to find a group of kids from one of the other classes were already standing at the lockers.

I looked at the piece of paper I had been given with my name on it and saw that I had been assigned locker seventeen. That will be easy to remember, I thought, because that is how old I will be on my next birthday. I walked over to locker seventeen to get my key, but there was a guy standing in the way.

I took a deep breath and said, ‘Excuse me. I need to get to my locker.’ I waited for the nasty remark that would follow as the guy turned around, but instead he bowed and stepped to one side.

‘Pardon me, mademoiselle.’ His smile was infectious and I couldn’t help but smile back. Then Debbie was right beside me.

‘Hurry up, Molly. We need to get back.’

I suddenly felt flustered as I rushed to get my locker key with this guy watching me.

‘Hi Deb,’ said the guy. ‘Who’s your cute friend?’

‘Hey David, this is Molly. She’s new here, so be nice. Molly this is David.’

David reached out his hand, and I held mine out uncertainly. He took my fingertips gently and raised my hand to kiss the back of it softly.

‘Enchanted, mon cheri.’ My head was spinning and I felt like I was watching a movie scene from above rather than in my own body.

‘Leave her alone, David. She’s already spoken for.’ Debbie then grabbed my elbow and hurried me back to the classroom. I turned and looked back over my shoulder before we went around the corner. David was still looking at me and he smiled and waved. I waved too before Debbie jerked me into the classroom.

The morning went quickly and before I knew it we were back in the playground for our recess break. I was trying to find a way to ask Debbie about David but she beat me to it.

‘You don’t want to get swept away by David,’ she said. ‘He tries that act on all the girls.’

‘Is that why you said I was ‘taken’?’

‘Of course, I’m just looking out for you, Molly. Don’t give away your heart too easily.’

She squeezed my arm and smiled, ‘Are you okay?’

‘Yeah, of course.’ I gave her a little smile back but I couldn’t get the picture of David’s face out of my mind, or the way he kissed my hand.

Until it was time to go

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For the next two weeks I spent every day at the beach with my new friends and we repeated the same thing over and over again every day as I read a chapter of my book to Shawn, before going out on the surfboards for a while, each time going a little further and further out. Then we would come back to the beach and sit around in a group and sing and play the guitar until it was time to go home.

Shawn always sat beside me and helped me in and out of the water. Every time I looked at him I felt butterflies in my stomach and I found myself laying awake in bed at night thinking about what we had been doing during the day and the way he smiled at me. As my cheek pressed against the pillow, I remembered how smooth his skin was.

But eventually it was the last day of my holiday and everyone was a bit quiet and sad at the beach that day. Debbie and Rose were staying for another week, while I had to catch the train home early in the morning. We sat around and sang songs as usual, but they were somehow softer and slower than normal. Someone decided to go for a walk to the headland, but I couldn’t go up the steep path because of my broken leg so Shawn stayed on the beach with me while the others went.

I was glad of the chance to have a last quiet moment together and when everyone had disappeared down the beach I pulled a piece of paper out of my bag. I had been working on some lyrics so that Shawn could finish his song and I started to sing to him.

 

‘Can you imagine being back at school?
Would you still break all the rules?
Or would you just be acting the fool?
Maybe you’d be way too cool,
If you were ever back at school.
 
Could you imagine starting again?
Maybe this time we’d still be friends,
You’d be smiling, I’d have my zen,
There would still be moments when…
If we could start all over again.’

 

He sat there stunned and then pulled out his guitar and we sang the whole song together. The music from his guitar was so beautiful and our voices blended so well together that I felt like we were angels singing in heaven. Shawn closed his eyes when he sang and he looked so serious and cute, but then he opened them and saw that I was looking at him. He stopped playing and put his guitar down and leant forward and hugged me.

‘I’m going to miss you so much, Molly.’

‘I will write to you every day, Shawn.’ I had hoped for something more, but the hug was nice and we held each other for ages until the others came back and it was time to go.

Falling in love on the beach

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His voice was calming and I relaxed a little bit. As long as he stayed close to me I was going to be okay, I told myself.

I heard a loud yell and looked up to see Neil standing on his board and crouching into the curl of a wave. He looked so poetic that I wished I could do that, even though I knew I would never be able to balance, let alone stand with my leg the way it was. Michael went past as well with a look of total concentration on his face.

I turned to Shawn. ‘You can surf too if you want, you don’t have to stay with me.’

‘It’s okay, I don’t mind being here. I like it.’

I looked at him and smiled and he smiled back with that lopsided grin I remembered so well. We stayed out there like that for ages, just riding on the swell of the waves and paddling into the bigger ones so that we didn’t get washed back onto the beach. Once I got comfortable and relaxed a bit we started talking. There was so much I wanted to know about Shawn and what he had been doing all these years. He told me all about how he spent most of his spare time out surfing whenever he could.

‘What about your school work?’ I asked. He looked away and gazed out to sea.

‘I don’t like school much,’ he said. ‘I’d much rather surf and play my guitar than go to school.’

‘Oh wow, you play guitar? I started learning to play a couple of years ago but it hurt my fingers too much.’

‘Really? You should try again, it just takes practice.’ He was beaming now and seemed excited to be talking about his guitar. ‘I could teach you,’ he added. ‘I’ve got my guitar in the car. I always carry it with me everywhere I go.’

I tried to tell him that I wouldn’t be very good at it, but he wouldn’t listen.

‘Why don’t we swim back to the beach and I’ll play you a song?’ He started paddling and I had no choice but to follow him. I was glad to be getting out of the water anyway.

As my surfboard slid up onto the sand I crawled to my knees and was just about to try and stand up on one leg when Shawn suddenly picked me up in his arms.

‘Oh gosh,’ was all I could say as I felt myself being lifted. I didn’t know what I should do so I threw one arm over his shoulder and tried to hang on, but he was strong and I felt safe in his arms. I looked up at Shawn’s face and he looked down and smiled at me and held me tighter as I felt the smooth skin of his shoulder against my cheek.

He laid me gently on my towel and then ran off to get his guitar from the car. I slipped my sun dress back on and put my shady straw hat on to keep the sun off my face. I was putting some more sunscreen on my arms when he came bounding over the sand dunes with a guitar case and flopped down beside me. He opened the guitar case and pulled the instrument out and strummed the strings.

‘Let me sing you a song,’ he said, then looked thoughtful for a moment. He started running his fingers over the silver strings and the most beautiful melody filled the air. Every note seemed like a drop of liquid crystal that just floated from his fingertips. He licked his lips and opened his mouth to start singing with a voice that sounded husky and soulful.

 

‘Can you imagine anything?

As long as it could make your heart sing,

Go round forever like a golden ring,

Leave behind all this aching,

If you could be anything?

 

Can you imagine life on the moon?

Or sailing the world to a beautiful tune,

Find a tropic island, be marooned,

Or maybe hide in a cocoon,

As long as you don’t come home too soon.’

 

He stopped singing and hummed along with the guitar for a little while and then stopped. ‘That’s all I’ve written so far, I’m not sure what to say next,’ he said with an embarrassed grin.

‘Shawn, that was beautiful. I loved it.’ I couldn’t believe he had written it himself and I suddenly found myself telling him all about how I had started writing poetry. I told him that I never showed it to anybody because it was just my way of capturing all those random thoughts that float around in my head. But I was so impressed that he had written his own song that as we talked I started to get an idea that I could help him finish it.

‘Why don’t you have a go at the guitar,’ he said and handed the instrument to me.

I placed it across my lap and tried to remember how to put my fingers on the strings. As I strummed the guitar made a terrible noise, and I was about to hand it back in embarrassment but Shawn wouldn’t let me.

‘Take your time, Molly. Give yourself a chance.’ He showed me how to make a chord and then when I strummed again it came out sounding like music. Shawn spent ages showing me how to make different chords and I knew there was no way I would ever remember them all, but I really started to enjoy being able to make this instrument produce such pretty sounds, even if I didn’t know what I was doing.

I kept practicing until the others came out of the surf for a break, and then Shawn took the guitar back and started singing. We all sat around in a group then and sang songs together, and while Debbie was the loudest, of course, she was soon encouraging me to sing out as well. My voice was more of a whisper compared with hers but I soon found that I was enjoying myself as much as I had when I sang on my own as a little girl.

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