The first in the fabulous Beech Bank Girls series of books!
I didn’t really expect to enjoy the first day at my new school, Beechwood High, and I was right. For one thing, the school uniform we’d ordered hadn’t come in time, and I had to go in an ordinary navy sweatshirt and jeans. The other girls had proper school sweatshirts with the school logo in gold, and either navy trousers or short navy skirts and black tights. I felt I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Then, it was difficult learning the layout of the school. I’d been used to a huge, modern, glass and steel comprehensive. This school was an old converted mansion house, with lots of staircases, corridors and rooms tucked away by themselves. By the first break I was hopelessly lost. Timetable in hand, I found myself wondering desperately how I was going to find my class room for the next lesson.
The corridor was deserted. Everyone was safely installed in their own classes. Then I heard hurrying footsteps. A small, dark girl skidded to a halt beside me.
I nodded, blushing. How I wished I could get out of that stupid blushing habit. I bent my head and let my hair fall forward to hide my face.
The girl sounded friendly. And she was in my class. I’d noticed her that morning with a group of others. I looked into brown eyes in a round, rosy face. She looked friendly, but you never knew.
“You’re the new girl. Anna, isn’t it?”
“Annie,” I said.
“Oh yes. I’m Rachel. Just come with me. But we’ll have to hurry. I’m late. Had to go back for something I forgot. Come on.”
We hurried together down steps and round a corner, and were in the classroom. The teacher was not pleased at our late entrance and made a sarcastic comment to Rachel, who said, “Sorry, Mr. Bryce,” and slipped meekly into her place.
Mr Bryce peered at me and what I was wearing, seemed to recall that I was new and waved me impatiently to my seat. “Just sit, girl.”
My cheeks were still warm, and I felt that everyone must be thinking that I was a complete dork. I sat, and tried to concentrate.
At lunchtime I saw Rachel again, with a group of four or five others. Everyone seemed to be in a group as they queued up at the lunch counter. One or two of them glanced at me and made a comment between themselves. Somebody jogged my arm while I was holding out my plate for gravy, and someone else sniggered. It could have been an accident, of course. But there’d been so many incidents like that at the last school that I wasn’t giving anyone the benefit of the doubt.
I moved off and found a table in a corner, all by myself, until a couple of year seven boys came and sat opposite because there was no room anywhere else. Their table manners were gross, and after a while they started showing off, telling each other stupid jokes and flicking bits of food about. I ignored them, staring miserably out into the chattering crowds at the other tables. Rachel and her friends were at the opposite end of the dining hall, talking and laughing. One of the girls in the group was tall and slim and had a mass of red hair that made her stand out. Another was blonde. They were having a great time. What I’d give to be part of a group like that, to talk to and hang out with. But I hadn’t a hope.
Suddenly, Rachel turned a little and saw me staring at her. She said something to the others. All of them turned and looked. Then, to my horror, they started pushing back their chairs and getting to their feet. They were coming over to my corner.
I jumped up so quickly that the two year sevens stopped their idiotic chatter and stared at me. I left the last bit of cottage pie uneaten and headed for the door nearby. It led to yet another corridor, which I hurried along until the dining hall chatter dimmed in my ears. At the far end, another door led to what seemed to be a large storeroom, with cupboards and stacked-up crates and boxes. I sat on a large wooden crate containing cans of baked beans, put my hot face into my hands and had a little weep. Why did I have to be such an idiot?
I stayed in the storeroom until the next period began, and no one seemed to take any notice of me for the rest of the afternoon. I was so glad the new house was in walking distance of school and I wouldn’t have to travel on the school bus.
Mum was in the hallway, unpacking boxes. She asked, “Good day, dear? How was the new school? Oh, by the way, your uniform’s come.”
I said something non-committal and headed straight upstairs. The school was OK, the other kids no worse than any. It’s me that doesn’t fit anywhere, I thought miserably.
“Come and have a cup of tea and tell me about it,” Mum called up from below.
My room was a jumble of hastily-dumped possessions. My eight-year-old brother Harry was home from school, I could hear pinging sounds from his room as he played a computer game. I took a pile of his clothes that someone had dumped in my room and carried them to his. It looked like a bomb site; stuff strewn everywhere as he sat absorbed in his game. I guessed he’d been sent up to put things away. He grinned up at me, blue eyes serene. His day at the new primary school had been OK. Harry never let new schools or anything else get him down for long. I wished I was more like him.
Going back to my own room, I heard the garden gate click. Through the landing window I saw – horrors! – a group of girls, still in school uniform, trooping up the path. One was small and dark, another had flame-red hair.
Quick as a flash I grabbed my bathrobe and dived across the landing into the bathroom as the doorbell rang. I put in the plug and turned both taps full on. My heart hammered. Rashly I poured bubble bath into the tub, then jumped as a knock came at the door. “Annie?” Mum’s voice sounded puzzled. “Are you in there? There are some girls here asking for you.”
“Sorry.” I could hear how my voice sounded, strange and squeaky. “I’m just having a bath.”
I heard her go downstairs. I like a nice power shower in the mornings, and don’t do baths, usually. But the tub was full of bubbles and I had to fill in the time until the girls went away. I undressed and got in.
In spite of myself I felt some of the day’s tensions drain away as I lay and soaked. I hoped the girls wouldn’t decide to wait. I didn’t know why they’d come. Rachel had seemed friendly, but girls were different in a group – or a pack, as I sometimes thought about them. I remembered the last school and shuddered. That was what it had been like – a quarry hunted down by a pack of bullies. I’d been told bullies backed off when one stood up to them, but the one time I’d tried I’d ended up with a split lip and a torn shirt. I’d never told. The bullies had only stopped because we’d moved. And I was still scared.
I soaked in the bath, half dozing, until Mum banged on the door again. “Annie? Are you all right in there?”
“Yes Mum. Just coming.” I wallowed my way out of the bath, dried off, and came out to find Mum putting away towels in the landing cupboard. She looked at my pink, shiny face and damp hair in a puzzled way. “I thought you didn’t take baths. Just showers.” Her face was troubled; it often was nowadays.
“Well, I’ve changed,” I said. “It’s allowed, isn’t it?”
“Of course.” She seemed surprised at my crabby tone. “By the way, four or five girls from your school were here. From your year, I think. Wanted to know if you’d like to go out for a bit. A shame you missed them.”
My heart leapt, torn between hope and doubt. Had they really meant it? Were they to be trusted?
The doubt won. I shrugged, and took a clean towel from the pile to dry my hair. “Couldn’t have gone, anyway. Homework,” I said, and marched off to my room before she could say more. I felt her looking after me, concerned and mystified. I knew she wished I’d have a cup of tea and talk to her. Part of me wanted to go back and fling myself into her arms and tell her my hopes and fears, and ask why I couldn’t be like other girls, with real friends to hang out with. I closed my door with a snap, plugged in my DVD player and put in a disc with the kind of beat that Mum said gave her a headache. It made me forget my troubles for a bit, and it was also good for covering up any embarrassing sounds, like the odd sob or two.