Okay folks, the final installment of my practise run. A little rough around the edges but I’m quite pleased with it. The point was to write something spontaneously, without all the months of planning that I usually put into a novel. Quite an experience, and I think I learned why I tend to plan stuff in so much detail: procrastination mainly, but also I need a plan so I have an ending. I’m not sure the Early Springer’s Book Club has an end; I think it might have just… stopped. What do you think?
The school nurse said it was only shock; everyone felt it, though Derek was the only one who’d fainted. She let him sit in the medical room and made him a strong cup of tea and gave him two jammie dodgers. She ruffled his hair and told him he needed to be a man about this. Would Miss Dunbavin want to see him crying and fainting all over the place?
Derek shook his head and took a bite out of one of the biscuits.
‘Quite right,’ the nurse said, her bottom lip quivering. ‘Will you be okay on your own for a bit? I’ve got loads of paperwork to fill out.’
Derek said he’d fine. He just needed a rest, that was all.
The nurse smiled and disappeared into the adjoining office. Derek sipped his tea and looked out of the window. Tony Harrington-Speed was leaving early, his face swollen and his eyes red. His mum and dad had come to pick him up and take him home. Derek didn’t want to go home. He wanted to stay in school forever, walking the same corridors she walked, catching her scent in the classrooms, listening for the rustle of her blouse and the smell of cigarettes and Poison. He could hear the nurse crying.
An hour later, Derek realised that the sound inside his head had stopped, though he still felt as though his insides had been scraped out. The door opened and the nurse led Sophie Stebbs into the medical room.
‘Got some company for you, Derek,’ she said with loud wet sniff. ‘Sophie’s not feeling well, are you, Sophie?’
Sophie didn’t say anything; she took a seat on the other side of the medical room, as far from Derek as she could.
‘Right,’ said the nurse, blowing her nose, ‘paperwork,’ and closed the door behind her.
Sophie reached into her satchel and pulled out a large notepad and a pencil case. A few moments later she was scribbling furiously on the pad. Derek turned away to look out the window.
‘Do you think it hurt?’ Sophie asked.
‘When the car hit her, do you think it hurt?’
Derek shrugged without looking around. ‘I don’t know. I suppose so.’
‘She was nice to me,’ said Sophie. ‘She helped me start the art club.’
‘Yeah, she told me.’ Derek wished he’d brought a book. Books were a good way of telling people you didn’t want to talk without being rude.
‘Can I have one of your biscuits?’
It wasn’t really a question of having ‘one of anything’; there was just a single biscuit left on the plate. He’d been looking forward to it. He wanted it to fill the hole where his insides had been. ‘Here.’ He put the plate on the floor and slid it across to Sophie.
She looked at the biscuit, blinked and then turned her eyes to Derek.
‘What? You wanted the jammie dodger. There’s the bloody jammie dodger.’
She kicked the plate with her heel, sending it back across the floor. It only made it half way.
Derek said, ‘I don’t want it.’
‘Well neither do I now.’
‘Why are you here? You don’t look ill.’
‘Neither do you!’
‘I fainted,’ said Derek. ‘You saw it. Everyone saw it. And they can’t get hold of my mum or dad, so I’m here.’
‘Maybe you should go to a hospital or something.’
‘The nurse says I’m okay. Just a bump on the head.’
Sophie nodded. Her obedient eye looked at his hands; the other eye followed it a moment later. ‘I was crying a lot,’ she said. ‘So Miss Hardy sent me here.’ She plucked at the hem of her skirt. ‘She was nice to me.’
‘Who? Miss Hardy?’
Sophie gave him a stern, withering look. Miss Hardy was never nice to anyone. ‘No, Miss Dunbavin was nice to me.’
‘Yeah, you said that already.’
Sophie pulled fitfully at a thread she’d loosened. ‘You could be nicer to me, if you tried a bit.’
Derek looked at her, but Sophie was looking at the floor. ‘Right, and why should I?’ he said.
She shrugged. ‘I dunno.’
‘I mean that drawing you left on the notice board; that wasn’t nice, was it?’
‘No,’ said Sophie. ‘No it wasn’t.’ She took her pencil and started drawing again. Her eyes narrowed and her tongue poked out of the side of her mouth. Derek was about to look out the window when Sophie spoke again: ‘I’m glad you came to the art club.’
‘Yeah,’ Derek said warily, suspecting a trap of some sort. ‘It was okay. Better than detention anyway.’
‘You’re good – at still life I mean. Your perspective could do with a bit more practice though.’
‘Wow Soph, you almost sound like you know what you’re talking about.’
’Be nice,’ Sophie told him through gritted teeth.
‘And can you stop that with the pencil? It’s really annoying.’
She said, ‘I’m nearly done,’ which to Derek’s mind meant she wasn’t going to stop any time soon. He sighed loudly and turned to the window.
‘I told Miss Dunbavin I liked you; that’s why she made you come to art club. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to come again.’
Derek fumed. He felt angry, bitter; so bitter he could taste it in his mouth. That afternoon, yesterday after school, in detention, he thought they’d connected. He thought that for her to go out of her way for him like that she must feel… something. And all she was doing was palming him off on someone else. And now she was gone. Now he couldn’t tell her how worthless that made him feel. He turned to Sophie, and her funny eyes were looking at him as if she was seeing through his skull.
‘I think she liked you a lot.’
‘Yeah, but she didn’t like me enough, did she?’
‘Enough for what? What did you think was going to happen?’
‘I don’t know! I just thought… I dunno what I thought.’ His eyes felt wet. He felt his breath catching in his throat. I’m never going to see you again.
Sophie got up and came to sit down next to him. She gave him her notepad. ‘It’s not very good,’ she said by way of an apology. ‘The lights are too dim in here, and my eyes aren’t brilliant, but you know that already.’
Derek looked at the picture. It was him, a caricature, but not an unkind one. In fact, she’d made his nose a bit smaller. And she could have really gone to town on his ears, but she hadn’t done that either. ‘Thanks,’ he mumbled under his breath.
‘Don’t mention it.’
He barely had. ‘Can I keep it?’
‘If you want to.’ She watched him fold it carefully and put it in his satchel. ‘You don’t have a lot of friends—’
‘I don’t have any.’
‘Well, you can hang out with us if you like.’
‘You’re all girls.’
‘Are you actually being picky?’
She had a point. ‘I’ll think about it,’ he said.
She edged a little closer to him, and when he didn’t move, she edged closer still, until their legs were touching. ‘We can talk about her if you like: share memories and that.’
Derek shook his head. ‘No, I don’t want to talk about her anymore.’
Sophie nodded and said she understood. ‘Can I draw another picture of you?’
Derek narrowed his eyes. ‘You’re very odd you are.’
‘Can I or can’t I?’
‘Can you draw people from your head; you know, like from memory?’
Sophie folded her arms and tried her best to look insulted. Derek took that as a yes. ‘Great, can you draw Miss Dunbavin for me?’
‘I’ve got a better idea. We can go to the art block and get a really big sheet of paper off that roll Mr Ives keeps in the storeroom.’
‘I was thinking something smaller,’ Derek said doubtfully.
’No, it has to be big, really big; big enough to cover the wall in the drama room.’
‘You reckon you’re that good do you?’
Sophie smiled and shrugged. ‘Dunno,’ she said. ‘Let’s go find out.’