4. The Actual First Day Of Year Seven
Nothing that wouldn’t heal, was what the doctor had said about my injuries.
Dad dropped me off at the same time as Journey and Dexter on the third day of term, and made sure they walked me all the way to my tutor room. He’d spent the last two days worrying about me as I had my leg plastered. I’d broken it in two places, but aside from that all the other wounds were superficial.
“Kids don’t actually flush your head down the toilet and steal your lunch money,” Dexter told me as he swung my bag around, after having helpfully volunteered to carry it for me. “That’s only in American movies. If a kid doesn’t like you, they’ll just fight you and then you’ll be friends again after that. Last year, Aaron in my maths class set up what he called a ‘fight club’ on the AstroTurf by the English block, and like, six boys got suspended for fighting.”
Journey gave him a quick, playful punch in the arm. “That’s boys though. Girls don’t fight, they just bitch about each other behind their backs until a teacher gets involved. Then everyone cries and then they’re friends again. No need for violence!”
Rubbing his sore arm with his free hand, Dexter laughed. “Oh god, the amount of times I’ve heard girls bitching about you! Now I can see why! Plus, you literally just used violence against me, so your point is invalid.”
She punched him again, a little harder this time. I cleared my throat, trying not to laugh.
“I thought you were meant to be giving me advice, not trying to scare me. I don’t think I’ll be getting into any fights today, anyway. I’m basically a cripple.” I raised one of my crutches and hit Dexter in the arm too.
“Hey! Don’t hit me! Hit her!” He yelped, so I did. We almost collapsed in a fit of laughter as we entered the school building, and a passing teacher shushed us.
The school building was old, though they’d tried to cover it with a few licks of fresh paint. Its true age showed through the cracks and stains that covered the cold stone floor. My crutches echoed down the hallway as I hobbled along, hoping I didn’t look ridiculous but at the same time not really caring if I did. The door to my tutor room was propped open by the recycling bin, already filled with paper. Dexter handed me back my bag as we approached it and smiled.
“Find me if you need me. I’ll probably be hanging around the stairs in the music block or something.” Then he strutted off down the corridor, as he must have done a thousand times before. This was his last year here, he didn’t have all five remaining, stretching out in front of him like a racetrack. He’d nearly finished the 100 metre sprint, I was just starting the 500 metre hurdles. But that was Dexter - he just drifted through life like it didn’t touch him. It all came easy. He wasn’t the smartest, but smart enough. He knew how to talk to people, how to keep friends, how to win over the teachers.
Journey smiled too. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” I could tell she didn’t really know what else to say to me.
“Very reassuring, thanks.”
“Don’t be like that, Cas. If you stop being so pessimistic all the time then the world will stop seeming so bad. Put a smile on that face and you might finally make some friends. You can’t spend five years moping about on your own.” She looked into my eyes and I smiled the fakest smile I could force my face to make, and with a sweep of her long bleached hair she was gone.
The classroom was packed full with curious faces, all staring at me with a kind of hungry look in their eyes as I entered.
My tutor, a short middle aged woman with a long, thin scar running across her left cheek, looked up from her computer. “Oh! You must be Castle Graham, yes?”
I heard a few sniggers fire around the classroom, and so fired back with a glare. “Yeah.”
“Well, Castle, you can sit at the front here,” She gestured to an empty table, directly opposite hers. “I’m glad you could join us today, have you got your timetable and everything?”
I nodded and sat down in the cold plastic chair, leaning the crutches against the edge of the table. A boy sat at the table to the right of me turned his head. He hadn’t gone to my junior school, so I didn’t recognize him. He just looked like every other boy in the class, and probably in the school. Average, most likely mediocre at everything he did.
“What happened to you?” His eyes were scanning each scrape and bruise that spanned my face, so I raised my hand to my cheek and blocked his view.
“I got hit by a Honda Civic going forty miles an hour in a thirty zone.”
His mouth gaped open, like I’d just told him something horrific. “Did it hurt?”
“No, not one bit,” I joked, but his expression didn’t change so I leant closer to him. “It hurt like a bitch.”
My tutor shushed the class and sat back down at her seat. “Well, Castle - do you prefer Castle or Cas?”
Shrugging, I pulled my timetable out of my bag and quickly skimmed through it till my eyes approached Wednesday. My first lesson was P.E - how ironic.
The same boy was still looking at me, all beady-eyed like I was some freak attraction at a circus. “Your name is actually Castle? Like, actually?”
“Thomas, leave the poor girl alone. It’s her first day!” My tutor switched on the interactive whiteboard and a powerpoint about making the most of our time at the school flashed up.
I turned my head towards Thomas, and mirrored his expression. “Your name is actually Thomas? Like, actually?”
The rest of the day crawled by as slow as a paraplegic toddler. I couldn’t join in the sports, I had to sit on a bench and watch sixty or so girls in blue polo shirts and shiny shorts learn how to play tennis. The question “What happened to you?” was asked at least twenty times, and each time I answered with a different story.
“My mum decided she wanted an abortion but she was eleven years too late.” was the one that gained the most confused look. Close behind was “I served Gordon Ramsey a raw steak.”
I couldn’t join in with the activities in drama, I just had to bring the lights up for each five minute performance, and dim them again after everyone had finished giggling. That was the biggest shame of the day, because I actually enjoyed acting. I tried to convince my teacher, Mrs. Miller, that I was capable of acting even with my crutches, but she was too concerned about health and safety to let me. Everyone in my classes seemed to be photocopies of each other, with each copy slightly more blurred than the last. I knew I was just like them really, but I didn’t want to be. I’d have to find some way to make myself stand out whilst also fitting in just enough to not be bullied. When lunch time finally rolled around, I was completely drained of any energy I’d had when I awoke in the morning and so I hid myself away in the library.
The library wasn’t very impressive, but it was quiet, and that would do. I chose a table next to the poetry section and pulled my notepad out of my bag. The cover was battered from being hit by the Honda Civic, and the pages were close to falling out. It made a thump as I dropped it on the table, and I flicked it open to a page that was half filled with something I’d been working on. Nothing revolutionary, but I was eleven years old. No eleven year olds can do anything revolutionary, at least not in Britain.
“What are you writing?” There was suddenly a boy sitting opposite me, I hadn’t heard him approach. He leant across the table, his head propped up by one arm, stubby fingers spread out across his red cheeks.
I shielded my book with my arm, protecting my words from his view. “Nothing.”
“Is it a poem? Because if it is, that’d be very appropriate right now.” He didn’t move, not taking his eyes off of mine. That was my thing, the blue-eyed death stare, the cold and unwelcoming stance. I’d spent the whole summer trying to perfect, convinced that one day I could play the villain in a spy movie. Why was someone else doing it, and equally as well as I could?
“Because we’re in the poetry section?” Our eyes were still locked, unblinking, like some strange staring competition. First to blink is the weakest.
“Because my name is Poet.”
First he stole my stare, and then proceeds to have an unusual name as well? As I bore my eyes deeper into the soul behind his eyes he blinked and lost the game, looking away to the side. “That’s a stupid name.”
It wasn’t like I wanted to talk to him - having an unusual name wasn’t a personality trait but it did show that his parents probably wanted him to be different. And it’d worked, because the more I looked at him, the more I realised how strange looking he really was. Short, and chubby, yet his features weirdly defined as though he were skinny. The uniform fit him just right, like it was tailored, and one eyebrow was significantly more raised than the other, giving him a permanent puzzled expression.
“I bet yours is too, isn’t it?” He smiled, his lips parting to reveal a large gap between his two front teeth “Go on, what’s your name?”
It came out as almost a whisper, as I hadn’t been wholly prepared to encounter anyone in this dusty old library. “Castle.”
He slapped the table with his palm, leaning back in the seat. “I knew it! Just as stupid as mine!”
That made me laugh. He grinned cheekily as he leant towards me again and motioned for the notebook I was still shielding from his view. I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to slide it across the table to him. It was a poem, scribbled down whilst I’d been in the hospital. Nothing good, but I’d tried as hard as I could to portray the betrayal I’d felt when I’d been deprived of that first day at school.
“It’s not very good,” I admitted as I pushed it over to him. “And you might not be able to read my writing, but if you can’t I’m not reading it out to you.”
His eyes quickly darted back and forth across the page, slowly soaking in each word. “I like it. I like how it rhymes, kind of childish, showing how you’re still a child and that’s why you’re moaning about missing your first day.”
I squinted my eyes at him, and he raised his hands in defense. “My parents like poetry!”
“I can tell, Poet the Poet.”
“And you’re parents are fans of castles?”
“Shirley Jackson, actually. Do you know her book, ‘We have always lived in the castle’?” He nodded. “Well, I was this close to being called Merricat. Not Mary Katherine, just Merricat.”
“I was nearly called Gavin, which I think is much worse than Poet. I like Poet, although now there’s a sort of building pressure on me to actually become a poet.”
“At least there’s no pressure on me to actually become a castle,” I laughed, and he did too.