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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Thursday fragments 12

The school bell rang and I checked my timetable to see what room I was meant to be in. My heart sank when I saw that it was a double period of health and exercise. I groaned and walked reluctantly toward the change room at the back of the gymnasium. I hated changing my clothes in the open with all the other girls watching me, so I hurried into a toilet cubicle and got changed in there.

I sat on the toilet lid listening to the girls in my class talking, and I waited until I could hear them walking out to the oval. I opened the door and poked my head out to make sure nobody was there, then hurried outside before I got into trouble for being late.

As I ran out into the sunshine, I was conscious of how bright my skinny white legs looked as they poked out of my shorts like matchsticks. All the other girls in my class seemed to have such perfect smooth skin. Mine was just covered in freckles and I always tried to hide it by wearing long sleeved shirts and pants.

Mr Norris was just marking the roll and luckily my surname was right down the bottom.

‘… Sarah Walker?’ he called.

‘Here, sir.’

‘White, Molly White, is she here?’

‘I’m here, sir,’ I called out as I ran to join the group of girls.

Mr Norris turned and looked at me for a moment with his beady black eyes, before looking down at his list and making a mark.

‘Okay, that’s the lot,’ he said. ‘Right, ladies, today we are playing soccer. Alison and Virginia, you two are the captains and you can pick your teams.’

I should have known those two would be the captains. They were always the teacher’s pets, no matter which class it was. Alison had long brown hair and a cute little upturned nose. She was one of the girls that had perfect skin, and she already had a boyfriend as well. Virginia was a stuck up rich girl with thick brown hair. She would have been really pretty if she didn’t always have a sneer on her lips. She had a boyfriend too.

One by one the two captains called out players to join their teams. I hated this part, and I started to get more and more embarrassed as the group of unpicked players where I was standing got smaller and smaller. Soon I would be the only left and that meant everybody would be looking at me.

‘I’ll have Jane,’ said Virginia. ‘You can have the fr…,’she paused and looked at Mr Norris.  ‘You can have the other one,’ she said, pointing at me.

Mr Norris blew his whistle and all the girls ran into their positions on the field. I ran over to the wing because that was where I had played when I was little.

All of a sudden play was under way and the ball came sailing my way. I froze and it bounced right past me and went over the sideline.

‘Oh, you idiot. What were you doing?’ Alison yelled.

Play continued and I tried to run around and look inconspicuous, until the ball came my way again. I started moving towards it this time when Virginia came running past.

‘Out of my way, freak,’ she sneered as she bumped me with her shoulder. She got to the ball first and kicked it down field.

I managed to keep away from the ball after that, but just before the end of the game the ball came my way again and there was nobody else near me. I stopped it with my foot, and then kicked it a little way in front of me and started running. It was just like in the dreams I’d had when I was a little kid and I thought I was going to score a goal this time. There was nobody between me and the goal post except for the goalie and as I drew my foot back to kick the ball Virginia came sliding in with her legs and knocked us both to the ground.

Mr Norris blew the whistle and gave me a penalty kick, but Virginia laughed as she got up and stood with her hands on her hips glaring at me. ‘Hey, let’s watch the little freak kick the ball,’ she said loudly.

I wasn’t sure what to do, but Mr Norris told me to put the ball on the ground and then kick it toward the goal as hard as I could.

I wished I could just disappear because everybody was watching me, but I did what he said and put the ball down. I moved back a couple of metres and then ran forward and tried to kick it with my left foot with all my might, but it hurt my foot and the ball just rolled to a stop as the goalie came forward to pick it up.

Mr Norris blew the whistle again and the game was over and we had to go back into the change rooms. I followed everyone back inside and disappeared again into the toilet cubicle to change my clothes.

When I thought the coast was clear, I opened the cubicle door and stepped out into the empty change room—except it wasn’t empty.

Virginia and Alison and a few of their friends were standing there waiting for me.

‘So the little freak has finally come out,’ said Alison.

I started to walk toward the door but Virginia moved across to block my way.

‘We don’t like freaks around here,’ she said. I tried to step around her but she grabbed my hair and pulled me back. I turned to face her when suddenly something hit me really hard in the face. My eyes went all blurry and I felt dazed as tears started running down my cheeks.

‘Oh, look it’s a cry baby.’

‘She’s crying freckles,’ someone else yelled.

‘Give it to her, Ginny,’ said another voice.

I felt a hand punch me in the middle of my chest and then I tripped over and fell to the ground. I looked up to see that I was surrounded by faces all staring at me and yelling things but I could no longer hear them. My head was spinning and everything had gone silent, then I blacked out.

I woke up later to find myself in a white room. Through the door I could see the headmaster’s office and I realised I must be in the nurse’s room.

‘Oh, you’re awake dear?’ said the school nurse. ‘I’m told you had a nasty fall at soccer during health. Some of the girls brought you in here. You are lucky to have such good friends.’

I reached up and felt my face where it was tender. I also had trouble breathing because my chest hurt so much.

‘I was just about to call your mother so she can come and get you,’ the nurse said.

‘Oh, please… don’t do that. I’m okay. I can ride home.’ She looked at me doubtfully but eventually let me go.

I had to ride my bike home really slowly because of my chest, but as soon as I got home I raced inside and locked myself in my bedroom before Mum could see the bruise on my face. I didn’t know how to explain it to her.

I saw my writing journal sitting at the end of my bed and I picked it up and started angrily ripping all of the pages out of it. I kept going until every single page was screwed up and thrown on the floor, then I threw myself face down on my bed and cried and cried and cried.

Thursday fragments 11

Extract from Molly’s Dreams, available from Amazon

As the school year progressed I began to learn how to write. With my little fingers clutched around a wooden pencil, I had to take down the words Mrs Mills had written on the board and put them in my exercise book. By the end of the day my fingers were so sore from gripping the pencil that my tired hand would drag over the page and smudge all the letters.
Every now and then the end of my pencil broke and I had to put my hand up and ask Mrs Mills if I could sharpen it. There was a mechanical pencil sharpener bolted to a cupboard and as I turned the handle it ground the pencil until it looked like a little sausage being eaten by a machine. Sometimes my pencil ended up so short that I could barely hold it in my fingers. Then the words danced all over the page and I couldn’t follow the correct slope at all, no matter how hard I tried, until the words eventually got washed down the slope by a flood of tears and Mrs Mills told me again how messy my writing was.
She pointed to the page with her ruler and told me there was something missing and that it was far too untidy. She said it looked like a spider had spun loopy webs of letters across the page and I had to fix it up before I could go home. I stared hard at the page for ages, but I couldn’t work out what she wanted me to do that would make it look any different so I just traced over the letters again with my pencil.
Once a week the class went to the school library and I was allowed to borrow two books at a time. The first time I went into the library I just stood there amazed at how many books there were, all lined up in shelves that looked like they would have reached all the way up to the stars if the library roof didn’t stop them. There were so many books to read that I didn’t know where to start. I just wanted to sit there forever and read every single one of them.
One day a man came into the classroom with a guitar on his back. Mrs Mills said his name was Neil and he started playing songs as the class sat on the floor and listened. Neil had wild fuzzy hair and holes in his jeans and his guitar sparkled like diamonds. He was tall and spoke softly, but when he started playing the songs were so beautiful that I couldn’t stop my feet from moving. I enjoyed it when we were allowed to sing along and I loved the way singing made me feel so good, as if something alive was coming out of my body.
When I got home I told Mum that I wanted to play the guitar. ‘Perhaps when you get bigger, Molly,’ she said. ‘You know, girls don’t usually play guitar though, maybe you should just be a singer.’ But I was already bursting with music and I couldn’t stop thinking about Neil’s sparkly guitar and how the beautiful notes fell from it like starlight as I walked around the house singing ‘Morning Has Broken’ again and again.
‘Oh Molly, stop singing,’ Samantha yelled from her bedroom, ‘You sound awful. I’m trying to do my homework.’ I heard the radio that was playing in her bedroom get louder and she slammed the door shut, so I went into my bedroom and sang to Mr and Mrs Bear as they sat on my bed.
Every night I sang while I was having my bath, trying to get my voice as low as it would go as I sank down towards the bubbles. Then I tried to sing really high like an opera singer and I lifted my face up to the bathroom ceiling. ‘Molly!’ Mum called from the kitchen, ‘Stop being so noisy in there and hurry up and finish your bath.’
‘Okay Mum,’ I called back. I felt like I had finally found what I wanted to be when I grew up. ‘I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul…’

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.

Thursday fragments 10

Extracted from Molly’s Dreams which is available on Amazon

When I first started school I felt very important as I got dressed in my new school uniform, although my feet hurt from those shiny black leather shoes. I was wearing a pale blue checked pinafore and I had a little school port to carry my lunch and a big smile on my face as I walked out to the car with my leather shoes creaking. Mum took a photo of all us children standing beside the car before we headed off to school, all lined up in height from Stephen down to me with the sun shining in my eyes.
As we got closer to the school, the smile started to slip from my face and I began to feel sick in my tummy and my head ached. Mum said it was just butterflies and they would soon go away.
A teacher met us at the school gate and Mum introduced me. ‘This is Molly,’ she said smiling at the teacher. ‘Molly, say hello to Mrs Mills.’ But I didn’t want to say hello. The butterflies had flown away with my voice and I just wanted to hide behind Mum’s legs.
‘Molly’s a bit shy,’ said Mum.
‘That’s okay,’ Mrs Mills replied in a stern voice, ‘We know how to deal with shy children. Come on Molly,’ she tried to take my hand but I started to cry and pulled my hand away from her; I didn’t want to go with this strange lady with the grey hair and glasses. Mrs Mills was determined though and soon I was marching through the school gate to join all the other children starting kindergarten.
I was scared and kept my eyes on the ground, trying to stop the tears in front of all these strange children. ‘Look at the little cry baby,’ yelled a boy in long shorts scornfully.
‘Leave her alone Darren,’ a tall girl said. She came over and asked me my name.
‘M – Molly,’ I tried to say in between sniffles.
‘I’m Stephanie, Molly, and we’re going to be friends,’ she said bravely. ‘Don’t worry about Darren, he’s just a boy.’
I gave Stephanie a little smile as the teacher told us all to line up. We then had to march to a classroom holding the hand of the person next to us. I was glad I had Stephanie’s hand to hold; it felt warm and soft while mine was all cold. Stephanie had a nice face with straight brown hair that hung past her shoulders. She seemed to be much more confident than I was.
Once I got inside the classroom, the morning was spent colouring in a piece of paper that had our names on it. I already knew how to recognize mine — M – O – L – L – Y — and I coloured it in like a pretty rainbow. We had some time before lunch so I started drawing a few butterflies on the page, when Mrs Mills came past and looked over my shoulder. ‘That is a lovely drawing Molly, but try to keep it neat,’ she said. ‘You left-handed children are always so messy!’ I was still not sure if I liked Mrs Mills so I didn’t answer and kept my head down. I didn’t think my drawing was messy at all.
As I looked around the classroom, everyone else was busy working on their pictures. The sun looked nice shining through the windows and it threw shadows across the room. One wall was lined with a bookcase, full of colourful books that I longed to explore and as I stared at their different shapes I wondered what exciting things were inside. The wall had some posters on it; one showed a fox jumping over a dog that was on the ground sleeping. Other posters had pictures of animals with words written above them. Alongside the doorway was a picture of a tall giraffe. It reached nearly to the top of the door and had little lines and numbers on it.
I lifted my head and stared at the ceiling which was painted white and had long bars of fluorescent lights shining down. I looked at them until my eyes felt dazzled and when I blinked I could still see those strips of bright white light against the back of my eyelids. I kept my eyes closed for a few seconds until the white strips began to go blurry and then slowly turned black.
There was a clock above the door and I could hear it ticking loudly in the quiet classroom. Tick, tick, tick, it went as I watched the little hand sweeping around so fast and I wondered why the other hands didn’t seem to be moving at all. I thought about Mum and what she would be doing right now. Probably vacuuming and dancing around the house to the radio. If I was home right now I could be playing with my dolls in my bedroom. Tick, tick, tick… I watched the clock and started to feel myself yawn. The door was open beneath the clock and I could see the playground outside. I was starting to get bored and I wriggled around in my seat to get comfortable. I wished I was out in the playground and running around in the fresh air.
I looked around the classroom again and saw heads bobbing up and down all over the place and other children wriggling in their seats. The desks were arranged in squares, with four children to a table, and these were spaced around the room like the petals of a flower. My desk was brown and had a little hole in one corner. Underneath the hole there was a small shelf and I started to amuse myself by poking my coloured pencils into the hole.
Sitting at the desk with me were Stephanie and two other girls, but I couldn’t remember their names. Stephanie was concentrating hard on her drawing and I watched the way her eyes moved up and down with the pencil. She had a little frown on her forehead that made her look grown up and wise. The other girls were also busy with their drawings. One of them had blonde hair tied up in a pony tail that swished around as she coloured in her name. The other one had straight brown hair that was cut short to just below her ears. She had her head down on her arm and was staring intently at the pencil dancing across her page. Every now and then she yawned and I could see the redness at the back of her mouth.
At the front of the room was a blackboard and Mrs Mills’ desk. She was sitting at her desk and reading a book. ‘MRS MILLS’ was written in huge white chalk letters across the blackboard. I wondered if she would smile more if she had used coloured chalk to write her name. I looked down at her desk which had some books and other important looking things on it in black containers, all neatly stacked in rows. They looked like little soldiers ready to march as soon as Mrs Mills gave the command. She was wearing a brown skirt that covered her knees and she had thick black shoes that clomped on the wooden floor when she walked. Her hair was pulled back very tight from her face, making it look like her eyes had been stretched so that she could watch the whole classroom at once. She looked very scary when she was sitting at her desk and when I saw her eyes watching me I quickly looked back down at my drawing.
At lunchtime we were allowed to sit on seats on the verandah outside the classroom to eat lunch. I had some sandwiches with vegemite and Stephanie had fish paste. We swapped half our sandwiches and I was sharing my little packet of sultanas with her when Mrs Mills came out of the classroom and told us that we could play on the grass for a little while until the bell rang.
There was lots of noise coming from the boys running around and chasing each other, playing one of those rough games Stephen had told me about. Stephanie and I walked down to the playground and lay on our backs on the grass, looking up at the ribbons of cloud floating by and talking about fairies. She told me there were fairies everywhere in her garden at home and that she liked to talk to them, but only when no-one else was around. I told Stephanie that I would like to be a princess one day and she said that her fairies could turn me into a princess if I liked. I was smiling to myself at that thought, when suddenly the clouds disappeared and some boys were standing above us.
‘There’s the cry baby with funny hair,’ they taunted.
‘Leave us alone,’ said Stephanie.
‘Make us,’ one of the boys replied.
‘I’ll make you all right,’ said Stephanie as she stood up and pushed one of the boys. ‘I said leave us alone!’
‘Look, the cry baby is crying again,’ said the boy named Darren. It was true, I wasn’t as brave as Stephanie and I was ashamed to find my eyes were full of tears again because these rough looking boys scared me so much.
‘Go away Darren or I’ll tell Mrs Mills,’ Stephanie warned. The boys ran off laughing and she put her arm around my shoulder. ‘Don’t worry about them, Molly. Darren lives near my house and he’s really just a big chicken.’ Just then the bell rang and we had to go back to class. I rubbed my eyes so they didn’t look so red but they still felt wet.
After lunch we were allowed to sit on the floor on little mats while the teacher read us a story about Harry the Hairy-nosed Wombat and his fight against men who wanted to build a new road over the top of his house. Mrs Mills let us lay down as she read about Harry’s burrow in the desert. My eyes felt heavy so I closed them for a minute while her voice droned on.
It was nice at the end of my burrow, all curled up in a ball sound asleep. From far above, I could hear the distant sounds of daytime, birds singing and the wind in the trees. A human voice could be heard from far away, but I was so snug that I ignored it. Then I thought I heard my name being called — ‘Molly,’— but that couldn’t be right when I was away out here in the desert. It got louder: ‘Molly! Molly, wake up.’ Suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder and I sat up on my reading mat, blinking my eyes against the bright sunlight. Some of the boys were giggling behind me and I could feel my cheeks getting hot. I wished I was back in my burrow.
After reading time, Mrs Mills took the class outside for a photo. The boys were pushing each other and being stupid until Mrs Mills yelled at them to stop it. She lined us all up in rows, with some of the boys standing on a bench at the back and a row of children standing in front. I stood with Stephanie but I could feel Darren’s knees digging into my back. I tried to ignore him and stood really still because I didn’t want Mrs Mills to yell at me, but I didn’t feel at all like smiling for the camera.
Eventually school finished for the day and I ran to the front gate to find Mum waiting under a big pine tree talking to some other mothers. ‘’Bye Stephanie,’ I called, waving my hand.
‘See you tomorrow, Molly,’ she yelled back.
‘Looks like you found a friend,’ said Mum. ‘How was your first day of school?’
‘It was horrible,’ I pouted. ‘Some boys were mean to me’.
‘Oh Molly, that’s not very nice. I’ll talk to Mrs Mills; I’m sure tomorrow will be better. The second day always is.’
‘Do I have to come back?’ I whined. I couldn’t see how it would ever be better.
‘Of course you do, Molly. You’re a big girl now’. I didn’t feel like a big girl anymore. I could feel hot tears welling up in my eyes again and I just wanted to get as far away from the school as I could.

Thursday fragments 9

Extract from Molly’s Dreams available now from Amazon

It was a few weeks after my sixteenth birthday and the winter sun was smiling on my face as I carefully parked my bike in the racks at the back of the school playground. I wasn’t late for a change and had been feeling better about myself since my birthday. After thinking everyone had forgotten about me, it was nice that they were all home to give me a surprise and for the first time in ages I felt like I belonged there.

I almost smiled to myself as I closed the lock on my chain. I loved this late July weather ― even though the air was still chilly there was a hint that spring was just around the corner. The wattle trees were covered in bright yellow flowers as if they were millions of tiny stars all bursting to shed their light. It was hard feeling sad when everything was so pretty.

I breathed deeply to smell the fresh air and swung my bag onto my shoulder. I was finally strong enough to face a day at school and turned towards the playground.

As I got closer to the school building though, I had to walk past a group of senior girls. They were sitting on a bench and I kept my head down and hoped that they wouldn’t notice me. Even though I was looking at the ground I couldn’t help see their smooth shiny brown legs out of the corner of my eye as they baked in the sun.

I was right alongside them when I heard one of them call out.

‘Hey, check out the freckled freak,’ she said to her friend in a loud voice. I tried to walk a bit quicker to get away from them.

‘Oh my gosh, look at her. They’re all over her face.’

‘Better watch out, Ruth,’ the first one said loudly, ‘Redheads have a fiery temper, you know.’

‘I’d like to see her try. She’s so little as well.’

I had gotten past and was trying not to run.

‘Hey, carrot top,’ one of them yelled after me, ‘Why don’t you come back and talk to us?’

I reached the school building and pushed the door open, but I could still hear them calling out and laughing as I hurried inside.

I half ran to my locker, trying to hide my face by pretending to be in a rush to find my books. A curly lock of hair fell across my face and I brushed it away impatiently. That damned red hair was the cause of all my troubles.

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.

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