Once again I have to apologise for the delay in publishing this chapter. Life has been getting in the way :(
Chapter 10: New Boy (Part I)
The delivery guys were very good at their job and had my new desk and chair installed in my room in practically no time at all. It took me much longer to unwrap all of the plastic and cardboard protective packaging than it had for them to manhandle them up the stairs. I had them site the desk next to the window that overlooked Peter's house as there was just the right amount of wall space for it there, plus a couple of spare power sockets.
I spent the next hour unboxing and connecting up my computer equipment, taking care not to get all the cables tangled. The last thing that remained to do was to get a couple of the U.S. to UK power socket adapters from Dad and I was all set. I powered up my monitor and printer and then flicked the switch on the back my PC. Nothing happened. Double checking the cables were all snuggly plugged in I tried again. Still nothing. Talk about frustrating! Frowning, I forced myself to think logically about what could be causing the failure and reasoned that it must be due to the PC having been shipped halfway around the world. Unplugging the cables from the PC again, I lifted it from where it stood on the floor onto the desktop and took the side panel off.
It took another ten minutes for me to find the loose cable that was the cause of the problem. I'd checked and reseated all of the internal cables connecting to the motherboard and finally heard a click when I tested the motherboard's power supply connector. It must have worked its way loose somehow during transportation, probably because of all the vibrations. I continued to check the rest of the cables, just in case, then closed it up again and reconnected the cables. Success! This time when I powered it on I was rewarded with the familiar boot screen info and, after a couple of tense seconds, Windows started up. I think I let out a sigh of relieve at that point.
There wasn't much I could do without Internet access but I was able to test that my printer was working okay. Hopefully we'd have a connection setup by Thursday and I'd be able to email Mike and Stace again. I'd had another couple of text messages from them, which I'd replied to of course, but I still preferred using my computer rather than a cell phone for messaging. The cell phone that Dad had bought for me was very nice but I found that touch screen text messaging was a bit too fiddly for my taste.
Conversation over dinner revolved mainly around Dad checking that I had everything I needed for my first day. I was worried that we hadn't gotten around to buying any books I might need for school until Dad reassured me that all necessary text books would be provided by the school. I just needed to bring a few notebooks with me and the usual array of pens, pencils, etc.
As we both needed to be up early in the morning he suggested that we should get an early night. I didn't argue as I was feeling fairly drained after our busy day and besides, the later I stayed up the more stressed I'd probably end up. So I was in bed by nine o'clock and fast asleep shortly afterwards.
I wish I could say that I slept soundly but that would be far from true. I awoke several times during the course of the night. Once, around midnight, was to empty my bladder, having forgotten to do so before I went to bed. But I definitely remember stirring at least twice more during the night. My dreams were... disturbing. Not nightmares exactly; I didn't wake up screaming or anything. They were just... I don't know, dark? The specific details elude me now, as I stand under the steaming spray of water in my shower, but I'm sure that that Ellis kid featured strongly as did the woods. I'm not even sure if they were separate dreams or elements of the same dream. I've heard that dreams are thought to be the brain's way of sorting through the day's events, filing away into memory the more relevant details while discarding the unimportant. Something like that anyway. Whatever. All I know for sure was that this shower felt really good after waking up in a hot and sweaty tangle of bed clothes.
Unfortunately, I couldn't afford to savor the sensation for as long as I would have liked as I really needed to move my butt if I was going to be ready by the time Peter called for me. I dried myself off, brushed my teeth, combed my hair and liberally squirted my pits with deodorant before donning my uniform. I left the blazer off for the time being, carrying it downstairs and draping carefully over a spare stool in the kitchen before taking my usual place at the island. My new shoes were squeaking a little as I walked and I hoped that they wouldn't be doing that all day; I didn't want to give kids at school another reason to stare at me. Dad was dressed in his usual work attire of tweed style jacket and slacks and was sipping his steaming coffee as I sat down.
"You look very smart, Jon," he said with an approving nod. "You all set then?" he asked, getting up and fixing me a glass of OJ.
I'd told him last night that I wouldn't need breakfast this morning as Peter and I intended to visit the school Cafe for a bite to eat before classes started.
"Pretty much, I guess," I shrugged, "just got to get my coat and book bag on the way out," I said as I fiddled with my tie, loosening the knot a little. It was going to be strange having to wear a tie every day, it was already making me feel a little claustrophobic.
"What time did you say Peter was going to be calling?" he asked, glancing at his watch.
"Seven thirty. That's what we agreed anyway," I responded, hoping that Peter wasn't going to be late.
"Okay, that gives you about ten minutes then to figure out if you've forgotten anything," he said, raising an eyebrow. "You sure you've got enough money for the bus and to buy food at school? Have you got your cell phone with you?"
"Yeah Dad, stop worrying, okay? You're making me nervous," I said, patting my wallet through my pants. "I'm all set, except for the cell phone. I don't know if we're allowed them so I'll leave it at home until I find out."
"Hehehe, okay sorry, I can't help it," he shrugged, chuckling into his coffee, "I expect Peter will be able to advise you about the school's phone policy. Oh and you'll probably need these too," he added, passing me my class schedule, a map of the school and a slip of paper with some numbers on it.
"That last one is your locker assignment and combination," he said in answer to my unspoken question, "you'd best put those in your coat pocket before you misplace them."
The doorbell rang a few minutes later and Dad and I both stood up at the same time. I slipped my blazer on and downed the last inch of my OJ before making my way to the front door. I stopped just before I opened it and looked up at Dad.
"Um..." I hesitated, "If you're gonna hug me can you do it now, before I open the door?" I asked.
Dad rolled his eyes in mock exasperation. "Naturally, come here," he said, before enveloping me in one of his tighter hugs. "You have a good day, okay?"
"I'll try," I affirmed as he released me, "and you too, Dad. It's your first day too after all." I said, getting my coat and book bag out of the cloakroom and opening the front door.
Peter was standing out on the drive looking off towards the gates but turned towards me as I stepped out of the house, closing the door behind me.
"Hi-ya," he said brightly, "I was just about to ring the bell again. Thought you might have overslept or something."
"I wish," I said, rolling my eyes at him and shrugging my coat on, "I can't honestly say I'm looking forward to this." I shouldered my book bag and walked over to him.
"Yeah, I remember my first day," he said, looking off towards the gates again, "but it wasn't so bad and you'll be fine after a few days, you'll see." He clapped me on the shoulder encouragingly. "Come on, we don't want to miss the bus or we'll have to wait 20 minutes for the next one," he smiled at me then set off down the drive at a brisk pace. I fell into step beside him as we crunched down the gravel drive towards the gates.
"It's about time", piped out small voice as we passed through the gates.
I stopped in my tracks and glanced sharply to my right to where Simon was leaning against one of the stone gate pillars. He pushed himself off and walked on down the sidewalk next to the main road.
"Come on, we need to hurry now," he added sullenly with a quick backwards glance at us.
I realized I was frowning and I quickly adopted what I hoped was a more neutral expression and looked over at Peter who, as he was looking right back at me, must have seen my initial reaction.
"Sorry," I muttered, tearing my eyes away as my cheeks heated up, "Um... I didn't think he... I mean, you didn't say that..."
"Come on," he interrupted my sputtering attempt at an explanation, "we've only got about five minutes before the bus gets here."
He clapped me on the shoulder again and set off after his brother. I forced myself to follow him and tried to shake off the feeling of awkwardness that had descended upon me. Simon was about 20 yards ahead of us and was just about to round the corner when Peter called out to him.
"Hey Si, wait for us", he shouted, increasing his pace from a walk to a jog.
I didn't have much choice but to start jogging myself; it was either that or be left behind. Simon had stopped and was watching us as we caught up with him, his hands stuffed into his coat pockets.
"You know we've got to stick together on this road, Si," Peter said to him as he slowed to a walk once more.
Simon just shrugged and walked on around the corner without responding. I did, however, catch the uncertain glance he cast in my direction before he did so. I sighed to myself as we walked along behind him. Wasn't today going to be bad enough already without all of this extra stress. Unfortunately, I figured it was down to me to try to fix things. I just hoped that it would work out better than our last encounter had.
"Sooo," I began, "do you like it at this school? Simon?" I asked, noticing him twitch as he realized I was addressing him and not Peter. It was a lame question but I couldn't think what else to say to him.
He looked back at me over his shoulder wearily and shrugged again before answering.
"I s'pose," he said tersely before returning his attention to the sidewalk.
I tried not to frown again as he faced forward and carried on walking. I could see this was going to be hard work. There was a metal and glass structure about 100 yards further along on the other side of the road and I assumed this was the bus stop. I could see this was going to be hard work.
"Sooo," I said again and cringed slightly to myself as I did it, "Simon? Um... what're your favorite subjects?"
I know that my attempt at conversation with him was pretty poor but hey, at least I was trying. I couldn't help it if I still felt very awkward about being around him.
When he looked over his shoulder at me this time he had a frown on his face as he opened his mouth to respond.
"FUCK..!" he yelled suddenly, his eyes opening wide, "there's the bus!"
Startled, more by the volume of his outburst than his use of the F-Bomb, I stopped walking. For a second there I thought that he was going to tell me to eff off and I was relieved when I realized that I was wrong.
Simon took off running down the sidewalk, waving his left arm and occasionally looking back over his shoulder. I could hear the approaching growl of a large vehicle and, after a quick glance behind us at the bus, both Peter and I also started to run after him. We still needed to cross the road though and that might have been an issue due to the number of cars that were zipping past us. Luckily for us, Simon's head start and frantic arm-waving appeared to have caught the driver's attention and the bus slowed to a halt alongside the bus stop. We had to wait for a good ten seconds for a gap to appear in the traffic and then we all dashed across the road. The driver opened the doors and Simon, Peter and I climbed aboard.
Peter flashed a card at the driver and then waited for me while I paid for my ticket in cash. I didn't have any coins on me and the £10 bill I handed over was met with a disapproving sniff from the driver. I pocketed my change and would have forgotten to collect the ticket from where it was poking out of the ticket machine had Peter not nudged me and nodded in its direction. I thanked the driver for waiting for us and followed Peter down the aisle towards where I could see Simon had taken a seat on the left-hand side. He stopped at the seat in front of Simon and gestured for me to sit by the window. Once I'd sat and placed my book bag on the floor between my legs he took a seat next to me.
"Peter?" came Simon's voice from behind us, "what are you doing?"
Peter and I both turned in our seats to look back at his brother. "What do you mean?" Peter asked him.
"Why are you sitting there? You always sit by me," said Simon, looking pointedly at the empty space on the seat beside him.
"I know I do, I just thought I'd sit with Jon today, you know, as it's his first day," Peter shrugged, "you don't mind, do you Si?"
"Well, it's just..." Simon was frowning again
"I mean," Peter interrupted him, "your remember what your first day was like, don't you? I remember you saying that you were really glad I was with you, that it would have been horrible if you were on your own. Do you remember that, Si?"
"Yes, but..." said Simon, his voice taking on a whining tone.
"So, I'm sure you can imagine what Jon would feel like if I left him on his own on his first day, can't you?" Peter asked.
"It's okay," I said, turning to face Peter, "you can sit with him if he needs you to, I don't mind, really."
Peter glanced at me briefly before turning his attention to his brother again. "Well Si? It's up to you. Do you NEED me to sit by you today or are you old enough to sit by yourself?"
Simon was still frowning. He stared at his brother for a few seconds more then his eyes flicked to me quickly before he finally, and very dramatically, crossed his arms across his chest and turned his head to look out of the window. "Do what you want, I don't care," he muttered under his breath and through clenched teeth.
"Okay, thanks Si," Peter said brightly, ignoring his brother's display of petulance and turning back to face the front of the bus.
I felt a bit sorry for Simon but at the same time I was also glad that Peter had chosen to stay put. He was currently rummaging through his book bag and had spread his legs slightly to better accommodate it as he searched for whatever it was he was looking for. As he groped around inside the bag his right knee would occasionally brush up against my left leg. Each time it happened I resisted the urge to move my leg away, despite the intense tingly sensation at the point of contact. It sort of felt like how I imagine being stroked by a feather would feel; ticklish but nice at the same time. I tried to be as still as possible, even slowing my rate of breathing so as not to give away any indication of how very aware and focused I was on his every movement. I didn't know and didn't care about what it was he was looking for, I just hoped that he wouldn't find it too quickly.
All too soon though it was over. Just as I was building up enough courage to consider moving my leg an inch closer to his. He shut his bag and placed it on the floor between his feet and closed his legs. Leaving me feeling a little empty and more than a little flustered, I hoped that he wouldn't notice the blush I could feel warming my cheeks and I turned my head slightly towards the window, to try and make it less obvious.
Staring absently through the window I suddenly recognized the gas station that Dad and I had passed yesterday on our way home. I realized that while my attention had been distracted, firstly by the exchange between the brothers and lastly on the sensation of Peter's knee gently bumping against my thigh, that the bus had turned off the main road and was heading into Howeton village. A few minutes later, about half-way down the High Street, the bus pulled up at another bus stop and a few more kids clambered aboard.
"You okay?" Peter asked, nudging my arm with his elbow. "You're not too worried about today, are you?"
"Huh? Oh um... no, of course not," I shrugged, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. I didn't think I sounded that convincing though and the look he gave me in return, complete with an arched eyebrow, said he wasn't buying it either.
"Okay, maybe a little bit, I suppose," I admitted, looking down to study my fingers where they'd begun fiddling with the shoulder strap of my book bag.
"Well don't worry, alright?" he said, bumping me with his shoulder, "I promise I'll look after you today."
He sounded sincere I couldn't help glancing at his face to check for some sign that he was making fun of me. Although he was smiling, it was a warm and genuine expression and it immediately dispelled any doubts that I might have had. I couldn't help but smile back at him. He really did have a great smile.
"Aw, how sweet! Looks like the Newbie's got himself a boyfriend," came a voice from the aisle that wiped the smiles from both our faces. "Oh no! I'm really sorry, did I interrupt a special moment? Hehehe."
Ellis looked down at me from where he stood between the row of seats in front of us, an expression of self-satisfied amusement on his face. The chatter of the kids in the seats nearest to us died away as, one by one, they all turned their attention towards us.
Caught totally off guard and with the heat rising to my cheeks once again, I didn't know how to respond. Thankfully, Peter saved me the trouble.
"Eff off, Ellis!" he snapped. "Why don't you go and harass the first years? They're the only ones who are afraid of you these days."
"Watch your mouth, Hawkins," Ellis hissed, bending over to bring his face level with Peter's, "or have you forgotten what happened the last time you pissed me off?"
"No, I haven't forgotten," Peter said, his expression darkening for a moment before, he suddenly smiled at the sneering face before him, "but it looks like maybe you've forgotten the headmaster's advice about staying away from me. Perhaps I should have a word with him this morning and ask him to remind you. What do you think, hmm?"
Ellis's eyes narrowed and then flicked to me quickly before he licked his lips nervously and stood up straight again, suddenly looking much less sure of himself.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Hawkins," he said, looking off towards the back of the bus, as if he'd become bored with the exchange, "not unless you want me to have a chat with the Newbie here about why you left your last school," he added, striding up the aisle without waiting for a response and deliberately bumping Peter's shoulder with his hip as he walked by."
Both Peter and I followed his progress until he'd sat down, making a younger kid give up his seat in the back row of the bus despite there being several empty seats nearby.
"What a dick!" I hissed, after we'd both turned around.
Peter just shrugged and grunted in response. He seemed distracted, chewing on the corner of his lower lip and frowning to himself.
"So, he lives here too then?", I prodded. "Taking a walk through the village has lost its appeal all of a sudden."
I don't think he even heard me that time, at least he gave me no indication that he had. He appeared to be totally wrapped up in his own thoughts. I figured maybe I should leave him be for a little while, to work out whatever it was he was chewing over. I might have done so had he not looked so troubled.
"Hey, Peter?" I said quietly, so as not to startle him, reaching over and touching his arm lightly to get his attention. I felt his muscles twitch beneath the fabric of his blazer and, although he didn't exactly flinch his arm away from me, the way he reached for his book bag a moment later made me feel that he didn't want me to touch him. I couldn't help but feel a pang of rejection and slowly withdrew my hand.
"Are... are you alright?" I asked hesitantly.
"Yeah, sure, no problem," he finally responded in a flat tone and without looking at me. He was rummaging around in his bag again, only this time his bag was in his lap and his legs were tightly closed.
"Oh, okay. Good," I said, nodding my head, "that's... good." I was kicking myself inside that I couldn't come up with anything better to say to him than that but I was feeling really awkward all of a sudden about the tension that there now seemed to be between us.
Not wanting to say anything that might make the situation worse, I turned my attention instead to the passing scenery and noticed that we were now on the road where we'd stopped yesterday to let that bus squeeze by us. Where I'd seen that shirtless boy waving at me. Even though I could see that we'd passed the point where I'd seen him, I still craned my neck around to look back along the road. I couldn't even see the woods from here and the motion of the bus along the narrow road caused me to bump my forehead against the window. So I faced front again and, rubbing my head with the heel of my hand, made a mental note to remember to keep an eye out for him on the bus ride home this afternoon.
I didn't try to speak to Peter again for the remainder of the 30 minutes or so it took the bus to reach the outskirts of Bedford. It had stopped a couple of more times to let kids on and I judged that we were only about five minutes away from the school. A heavy sigh from beside me interrupted my thoughts and although I didn't turn away from the window I was sure I could feel Peter's eyes on me.
"Jon?" Peter said, so quietly that I almost didn't hear him over the deep rumble of the bus's engine.
I turned to face him with what I hoped was a neutral expression and waited for him to say something more. He looked down when our eyes met and I thought for a moment that he was going to lapse into silence again.
"Um... sorry I er... about being in a bad mood, it's just ugh... he makes me so frigging mad and when he said um... anyway, look I'm really sorry, okay? I didn't mean to take it out on you," he looked at me when he'd finished speaking and I could see was still upset.
"I get it, really," I reassured him, "I know exactly how you feel and I've only spoken to him a couple of times. So forget it, okay? No harm done." I smiled at him to show him I meant it and he smiled back, although not as openly as he had earlier. The was something about his eyes too, they had a sort of sad, almost haunted look about them.
I was about to ask him if there was anything else bothering him but I didn't get chance to. At that moment the bus shook noticeably as it mounted the small access ramp leading to the school gates and kids around us started getting their things together and standing up.
"Come on, let's get ready to get off," Peter said and we stood up, placing our book bags on the seat. He snapped his fingers to get his brother's attention. Simon seemed engrossed in a conversation with a couple of boys his own age in the seat behind his and Peter had to speak before Simon realized he was being addressed.
"Earth to Simon? We're going to make a dash for the Cafe, okay? Get you stuff ready or you'll get left behind."
"I'm not hungry," was Simon's sullen reply as he avoided returning Peter's gaze.
"Come on Si, I skipped breakfast too so I know you must be hungry and I thought you were looking forward to coming with us?" Peter said
"I said, 'I'm not hungry'," he snapped back, "I'll get something at break."
Peter sighed and shook his head in exasperation. "Okay then, suit yourself. Just don't blame me if your stomach's growling for food all morning."
As if on cue, a gurgling noise, that was loud enough to be heard over the gravel crunching bus tires, came from Simon's midriff. Peter raised an eyebrow and smirked an 'I told you so' look at him.
"Oh alright," Simon huffed, grabbing his coat and bag and standing up, "and stop looking at me like that."
The bus pulled to a halt in the car park and the kids already in the aisle started forward as soon as the doors were opened. The three of us squeezed ourselves into the aisle and I cast an anxious glance towards the back of the bus to see what Ellis was doing. Thankfully he didn't appear to be in any hurry to get out of his seat and was just sitting there with a frown on his face, not appearing to be looking at anything in particular. If it had been anyone else I would say his expression was one of worry but, as it was him, I figured he was more than likely planning something unpleasant for one of his victims. I looked away quickly, before I caught his eye and gave him an opportunity for further harassment.
Peter and I got off the bus together but had to wait for Simon, who'd become separated from us by some older kids who'd squeezed in front of him. Once we were all together Peter led us at a jog towards an open doorway near the left-hand corner of the imposing facade.
"Why aren't we going through the main entrance?" I asked.
"We're not allowed to use that," he answered, looking back at me over his shoulder, "that's only for visitors and staff or if you need to see the headmaster. We can use this door," he nodded towards the doorway ahead of us, "or the one on the opposite corner. Depends which one is closer to your form room which in your case, and mine of course, is this one."
I followed Peter and Simon through the door and was led past a flight of stone stairs leading to the upper floors and then down a corridor with classrooms and lockers on either side.
"Do you know where your locker is?" Peter asked as we walked.
"Not yet," I admitted, fishing the slip of paper Dad had given me earlier out of my pocket, "here's my number, do you know where this is?"
"Hmm... Okay, that's easy. It's in the far corridor," he said confidently, passing the paper back to me, "we're going that way anyway."
This hallway, like the one off the main entrance, had a pair of glass doors at its end which, as expected, led onto the covered walkway surrounding the quad. Peter led us briskly onward, even overtaking some of the kids in front of us, until we were in the hallway where my locker was supposed to be. He occasionally eyed the locker numbers as he walked and, about halfway down, he finally stopped and pointed at one of them.
"This one's yours," he said, knocking on the metal door for good measure, "but it would be better if we checked it out on the way back from the Cafe. We don't want to be too far back in the queue or we won't get much time to eat before the bell goes off. Okay?"
"Okay," I shrugged and we set off again.
Before Peter led us out onto the terrace he pointed out his own locker, which was about fifteen feet away on the opposite side of the hallway. Once outside we hurried down the steps and around the cricket pitch until we reached the building that Daines had identified for me yesterday as the Dining Hall or Cafe, as Peter called it. I followed him through the main doors into a large open area filled with tables of varying sizes. The longer tables, seating up to ten people were arranged in orderly rows in the middle of the room, with smaller tables for two or three were set against the walls on three sides. Several long servery counters lined the left hand side of the room together with vending machines offering a variety of drinks, snacks and confectionery.
Only two counters were operational and there was a short line of kids, all with plastic trays in hand, waiting patiently for their turn. We joined the end of the line and Peter trotted of to fetch some trays.
"So," he began as he handed me a tray, "for breakfast you can have English or Continental, you know... sausages, eggs, bacon, toast, etcetera, etcetera or croissants, cold meats and cheeses. There's also cereals and juices if you prefer that. Oh, and in the winter they also serve hot porridge," he nodded towards a large cauldron on the end of on counter from which a matronly woman in a light blue uniform was currently ladling a gloopy white substance into a bowl, "which is really good, especially with honey. I think I fancy a bacon sandwich today though. What about you, Jon?"
"I usually just have cereal and juice for breakfast but a bacon sandwich sounds nice for a change," I said and took my wallet out of my pants pocket to save a little time.
"Put that away," Peter said, tilting his head towards my wallet, "it's my treat as it's your first day."
"You don't have to do that, Peter," I protested, "I've got enough money with me."
"That's nice, but I insist so please put it away, okay? If it makes you feel any better you can return the favor some time, deal?" he said, flashing me a smile and offering his hand so we could shake on it.
"Deal," I nodded, returning his smile and taking his hand in mine. Instead of the brief pump I was expecting, he just squeezed my hand gently and let it go.
"Ketchup, Brown Sauce, mustard or plain?" he asked, as we took a few steps closer to the front of the line
"Huh? Oh, er... a little Brown Sauce maybe?" I said, a little distractedly. I could still feel the warmth in my palm from our brief contact.
"Cool, I prefer Brown Sauce on mine too. What about you Si? What're you gonna get?" he asked, peering around me at his brother.
"Porridge, with honey," Simon said flatly. "Are you going to pay for mine too or do you just do that for your 'special' friends?" It was very clear from his tone that he was being sarcastic. The was something else about the way he said it though, the way he drew out each syllable of the word 'special' bordered on innuendo.
"Simon!" Peter hissed, raising his pointer finger in front of his brother's face in warning, "That's enough! Why are you doing this?"
Simon frowned and glanced up me briefly before dropping his head a little and muttering a barely audible "Sorry".
"Well, stop being such a brat," Peter huffed, "and no, I'm not going to pay for yours too. Anyway, you were given extra money so you could buy breakfast this morning, I saw Mum hand it to you."
"I said 'sorry', okay!" Simon shot back angrily, his face reddening as he glared at Peter. "You know what? Fuck it! I'm not hungry anyway." He stepped out of the line and quickly strode towards the exit.
"Si, come back!" Peter called out to him, making a few heads turn to see what was going on.
Simon looked back over his shoulder at us as he reached the doorway. No, not at us, at me. It was hard to be sure given the distance but I think that his eyes might have had tears in them. And then he was gone.
Peter was still staring at the empty doorway, his expression a mix of irritation and confusion.
"Next!" called out the woman behind the counter and I nudged Peter gently to stir him from his trance.
"I think it's our turn," I prompted him, "if you're still hungry, that is?"
"Hmm? Oh yeah, sorry," he sighed, "I'm still hungry."
He ordered two bacon sandwiches and a couple of glasses of OJ and once he'd paid for them he led me to one of the small tables against the wall on the far side of the Cafe. There was a smattering of kids here and there, on their own or in small groups, but there weren't any nearby.
Peter tucked into his sandwich and I did the same. The bacon was softer than I was used to but was still very tasty and it went well with the brown sauce. I wiped my mouth on a paper napkin when I finished and used my hand to stifle a burp. Taking a swig of OJ, I regarded Peter across the table as he also finished his last mouthful.
"Will he be okay?" I asked tentatively, not really sure whether or not I should be the one raising the subject of Simon and his behavior.
"I don't know what's gotten into him lately," Peter began, his frown returning, "I mean, before we left the house this morning he was really looking forward to having breakfast with us, at least that's what he said. Then he goes and acts like a five year old on the bus and... and now this." He threw his hands up and rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"You know, Simon and I never got off to a very good start," I said, massively understating the trauma of our first encounter, "and we haven't really had an opportunity to start over. To be honest, I do feel tense and uncomfortable when I'm around him and I suppose that he might feel the same way about me. Maybe the stress was too much for him, what do you think? I mean, you're his brother, you know him a hell of a lot better than I do."
"You're probably right," he nodded thoughtfully, "I was hoping that having breakfast this morning would be a chance for you two to get to know each other, or at least spend a little time around the same table. I'd really like it if we could all be friends," he sighed, "Simon's not making that very easy though, is he?"
"Do you think he'll have lunch with us later?" I asked.
"He can't," Peter shrugged, "first and second years eat lunch before the rest of us. So breakfast, or the morning break, are the only opportunities for us to get together."
"Okay, well what about after school?" I said, the seed of an idea germinating in the back of my mind, "what time does your Mom usually get home?"
"Around six normally, why?" Peter asked, cocking his head a little to one side.
"Well, I was just thinking... what if you and Simon come over to my house after school today, and we can all kinda hang out, you know? It'll be a good chance for me and Simon to clear the air. I know you guys are supposed to come over on Friday with your Mom but I think we need to sort this out before then. The sooner the better."
The smile had returned to Peter's face by the time I'd stopped speaking. "Yeah, we could do that," he enthused, "as long as I leave a note telling my Mum where we are I'm sure she'd be okay with it. I can do that after we've gotten out of our uniforms and then we can come straight over. The only problem," he added, his smile faltering, "is if Simon won't come with me."
"Hmm, do you think he'll still be pissed at us by then?" I asked,
"Nah, I doubt it," he said, dismissing the possibility with a little shake of his head. "He has got a bad temper, as you might have noticed, but it also burns out pretty quickly and he's usually human again within half an hour or so."
"That's good to know. So, when will you ask him?" I said, finishing my glass of OJ and pushing it to one side.
"I'll try to find him during break... but, wait a minute, that's going to leave you on your own and I promised..."
I held up my hand to stop him. "You don't need to worry about that, I've got to go to the headmaster's office sometime today anyway to pick up a letter, so I might as well do that while you're off looking for Simon."
"Oh, That's alright then," he said, sounding somewhat relieved, "just keep an eye out for Ellis, okay? He's always hanging around the quad."
"Tell me about it," I said, rolling my eyes as I recalled my encounter with him yesterday, "I'll be extra careful."
A bell suddenly rang out, interrupting our discussion and making me jump in the process. I looked around the room and could see the other kids getting up and making their way to the exit.
"That's the warning bell," Peter said as he stood up, "it means we've got ten minutes to get to our form room, come on, we've still got to sort your locker out."
We picked up our coats, bags and plastic trays and quickly made our way out of the Cafe, after placing our trays on a carousel rack that I supposed would whisk them away into the kitchen to be cleaned.
We retraced the route back to the hallway where my locker was located and I stowed my coat inside. I did have a mini panic when I thought I'd lost the little slip of paper with the combination to the lock on it. Thankfully though, I'd just returned it to the wrong pocket when Peter had passed it back to me earlier. I decided kept my bag with me, just in case I got given any text books this morning.
The hallway was filling up with kids and the clamorous noise they generated, punctuated by the loud reports of locker doors being slammed shut, was quite disorienting as it reverberated off of the hallway's high walls and ceiling. I followed as close as I could behind Peter as he headed back towards the quad, weaving expertly in and out of the path of kids heading in the opposite direction. I got bumped a few times but managed not to lose him as we passed through the quad and back down the opposite hallway towards the entrance we'd used earlier. Just before we reached the doors Peter veered off to the left and headed up the flight of stone stairs. After three flights, and two 90 degree turns to the left at each landing en route, we finally emerged onto the first floor.
I was a little winded by this point and had to take a moment or two to catch my breath.
"Our form room is the second one on the left up ahead," he said, pointing down the hallway, "come on or we're going to be late."
Sufficiently recovered, I shouldered my bag again and we walked towards the classroom he'd indicated. The right-hand wall of the hallway was mostly taken up by windows and glancing out I could see the fish pond in the quad below us. Daines' description of the quad as a square wheel made more sense from this angle, the pathways leading to the pond did kinda look like the spokes of a wheel.
The din coming from the open door ahead of us suddenly reminded me that I was about to walk into a room full of strangers. Kids who's attention would shortly all be focused on me. I could practically feel the weight of their stares already. Would they see through me? Would my secrets be safe? Peter walked casually through the doorway but I stopped just outside, a cold knot of anxiety tightening in the pit of my stomach.
A couple of kids walked past me, casting me curious looks as they disappeared inside. Great! Now they'd be telling all they friends inside about the weird kid loitering in the hallway. I can't do this. I've got to get out of here.
"Hey, what's up? Jon?" Peter asked from where he was poking his head around the door frame.
I just shook my head at him and squeezed my eyes closed. I couldn't speak.
"Jon? Come on, you'll be fine," he said, his voice closer to me. I felt a light pressure on my arm and I opened my eyes to look down at Peter's hand where it gripped me, "just pretend they're all naked and it won't be so bad," he grinned mischievously, "it works for me all the time."
I couldn't help but grin back at him. The idea was ludicrous and the image it conjured in my mind's eye refused to go away. I had to clap my hand over my mouth quickly to stifle the giggles that suddenly bubbled up from inside me. The knot in my stomach, although definitely still there, suddenly felt much less constricting and I took an experimental step towards the door.
I closed my eyes again and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly and feeling calmer as I willed myself to get a grip. Knowing that I wasn't alone, that Peter was here with me, was a big comfort. Oh well, I suppose the sooner I get this over with the sooner I can put it behind me. I opened my eyes and smiled at him, nodding my head to reassure him that I was okay, and followed him into the form room.
To be continued...
This is my first attempt at writing a story. Any feedback would be gratefully received.