Authors: Cathy MacPhail
For my son David
I watch Therese playing with our grandchildren. She looks as beautiful to me now as she did when we were seventeen. Therese pulled me through the bad times, stood by me, held me when I would wake screaming from the nightmares. People thought it was the war that drove me mad. I let them think that. Only Therese knows the truth.
I have often thought of writing my story, but the memory has always been too terrifying to face. I am an old man now, and it was so long ago. Who would believe me? And do I believe it now myself?
âSo, you haven't brought your PE kit again, Fiona?'
Fiona Duncan stood in front of the teacher, her very stance an act of defiance. Tapping her foot impatiently, balancing her bag on her hip. She made an art of looking bored, staring straight ahead, chewing her gum. She shrugged an answer.
Mr Marks looked just as bored. âThis is the third week in a row.'
âReally? I've not been counting myself.' Fiona's voice was full of sarcasm. That was what broke her teacher's temper at last.
âYes, really! And this time you are in trouble.'
Fiona blew a bubble. âThink so?'
âYes, I think so, Fiona.'
Fiona didn't say anything for a moment, then her face creased into a triumphant smile. âYou can't make me do anything, sir.'
She watched her teacher's shoulders slump in defeat. She had won. She knew she had.
âYes, you're right. I can't. Just promise me one thing, Fiona.'
âDon't be a teacher. It's a thankless job.'
She turned away from him, laughing. No fear of that, she mumbled, and she barely caught his next muttered words.
âNo fear of that indeed. Once a loser, always a loser.'
She almost spun round then. Who was he calling a loser? Just because she thought his beloved PE was boring. Maybe that was his fault. He was a rubbish teacher. Yet, even as she thought it, she knew it wasn't true. The rest of the class, all dressed in their PE kit, thought he was great. Jumping about, eager to start. She'd held the lesson up. They weren't happy about that.
âWhat am I supposed to do now, sir?'
He looked at her as if he really would like to tell her what to do. She caught the look, understood it.
âNow, now, sir, don't be rude.'
A murmured giggle broke out in the class.
Finally, Mr Marks shook his head. âSit on the bench and do nothing. That seems to be the only thing you're
good at. I've wasted enough time on you.'
Fiona threw down her bag and flopped on to the bench. It banged against the wall. She knew he'd probably report her, then she'd be disciplined by the head. Somebody would phone her mum. Her mum would rant and rave at her, and then forget it. Same thing every time. But it was better than getting changed into a nerdy pair of shorts and jumping about like somebody mad.
Zonks! Look at the fat lassie. I wish I had her nerve, Fiona thought. She looks as if she's got a sack of potatoes inside those shorts. She would die before she'd wear shorts if she had a bum that size. She was almost ready to laugh when the fat lassie â was her name Angie? â suddenly let out a disgusted yell. She put her hand to her hair and pulled it away in horror, trailing a long string of spittle on her fingers. She was almost crying. âWho did that?'
Fiona knew even before she looked up to the walkway that ran above the gym exactly who had done that. Who else but Axel O'Rourke?
Fiona was on her feet in an instant. âSee you! You're disgusting, O'Rourke.'
In answer, Axel aimed another spit directly at her and
Fiona leaped back just in time to miss it.
âI'm disgusting? It should be against the law to let anything that size wear shorts.' He pointed at Angie and laughed.
Fiona glanced at Angie. Her round face had gone red. She didn't know where to look. Fiona yelled back at Axel. âHave you looked in the mirror recently? There's more craters on your face than on the moon.'
Axel almost jumped over the balcony at her. He didn't like anyone referring to his acne. No one ever did. They usually got thumped. âI'll make you sorry you said that, Duncan.'
Mr Marks roared into the conversation. âRight, Axel O'Rourke. Headmaster, immediately!'
Axel did a bolt along the walkway. Mr Marks yelled after him and then he was running out of the gym to catch him.
Fiona looked at Angie. The fat girl's eyes were filled with tears. She was new to this school. If she was going to survive here she would have to learn how to be insulted and to answer back.
âDon't cry over him, honey,' Fiona said, putting her arm around Angie's shoulder. âHe's trash. Ugly pig like him calling you fat. At least you can go on a diet. Him?
It would take more than plastic surgery to make him good-looking. It would take a miracle.' She smiled, but Angie didn't smile back. She wasn't too sure whether she'd just been insulted again. âCome on, we'll get that muck out of your hair.'
Mr Marks couldn't catch Axel. Even he couldn't run that fast, PE teacher or not. Axel would get it later, but that was later, not now. His mate Liam stood at the door of the school cafeteria.
âWhat's the rush?' he asked.
Axel looked behind him. No sign of any panting Mr Marks. He flung his bag on a table. âSee that Fiona Duncan, I'm going to get her.'
âCome on, Axel. Even you can't tank a girl. Especially Fiona. She's all right. She's one of us.'
Fiona rebelled. Fiona didn't toe the line. Fiona was always in trouble. One of us.
Axel sat back, still angry with her. She had spoiled the moment, spitting on the fat girl. Fiona had a habit of doing that. Spoiling things. One day he was going to make her really sorry. He was going to say the right thing at the right time, just like Fiona. He was going to make her cringe. She was always too clever with that
mouth of hers. And if he couldn't say the right thing â¦ then he'd put her windows in instead.
He didn't like Fiona, but not half as much as he didn't like the two boys who rushed into the cafeteria now.
The little darlings of the teaching staff. They never did anything wrong. Now, if he could find a way to get them, Axel O'Rourke would be one happy boy. He caught one of those boys glancing over in his direction. Rick Glancy, blond, good-looking, fancied by half the girls in the school. His hair colour was natural, not dyed yellow like Axel's. His skin was smooth. No wonder Axel hated him.
âWhat are you looking at, Glancy!' he yelled.
He imagined him answering him back, giving Axel an excuse to thump him â but he didn't. His mate Zeshan held him back. âDon't rise to his bait, Rick,' he said. âIgnore him. He can't stand that.'
With a smirk they both did just that. Turning their backs on Axel as if he wasn't there. As if he was nothing.
One day, Axel thought, I'm going to make them sorry. I'm going to make them all sorry.
âZesh and Rick, they really think they are something, don't they?' Liam edged closer to Axel.
Axel didn't answer him. His eyes were still following the Asian boy and his ice-cool blond companion as they sauntered out of the cafeteria.
âI don't know why you let them bother you, big guy. You move in different worlds.'
Suddenly, Axel turned on Liam with such venom that he almost leaped back on his seat. âThey don't bother me at the moment. You and your brown nosing, that's what bothers me at the moment. Where have you been anyway?'
Liam grinned. He had no intention of telling Axel where he'd been. He glanced, for a fearful second, at the entrance to the boys' toilets, expecting any minute for Tony Manza to emerge. Wondering if Manza realised it had been Liam who had chucked the bowl of
water into his cubicle. He probably didn't. No one ever suspected Liam. Liam was funny. Liam was a hanger-on. But Liam wouldn't have the guts to confront anyone.
Not to your face anyway, Tony boy, Liam thought, remembering how Tony had humiliated him in the playground earlier. Pulling his jumper over his head, pushing him inside one of the wheelie bins. Liam had pretended it had been so funny. He'd made a joke of it.
But it wasn't funny.
Suddenly, Tony did explode out of the door, swearing loudly. âWho did that!' he was yelling, and he was dripping wet.
Axel looked up, laughed so much at the soaking Tony, that soon everyone joined in. Casually, Liam looked over. He smiled. Tony's angry eyes darted everywhere searching for a culprit, didn't even look his way. Liam turned away, uninterested now. He was satisfied. No one ever messed with Liam and got away with it.
âWhat on earth makes Liam and Axel friends, do you think?' Zesh asked Rick as they leaned over the walkway watching what was happening in the cafeteria below. âThey've got nothing in common.'
Rick glanced at Zesh. âThey could say that about us.'
Zesh shrugged. âMy parents are Pakistani, yours are originally Danish. We're both British. I would say we've got a lot in common.'
There was certainly a touch of the Viking about Rick, something noted by lots of the girls in their year.
âI think we're a good match.' Zesh said it with assurance, but then he said everything with assurance. Don't argue. I'm always right. It was the one thing that annoyed Rick about his friend and Zesh knew it. He knew it got everybody's back up, but he didn't care. He was his father's son and his father had always taught him to know what you want out of life and go out and get it.
Zesh turned his eyes back to Axel and Liam. They had started throwing chips and food at each other, at other people. âBut Axel's a thug,' he went on. âThere's no other word for him. Liam could be OK, if he ever thought for himself that is. I just don't understand â'
Rick interrupted him. âSafety in numbers. Safety for somebody like Liam. Who'll go for him when he's with Axel O'Rourke?'
They watched as Axel picked up a pie and squashed it into Liam's face. He was laughing. So was Liam. So were most of the pupils watching.
But not Zesh. He only turned to Rick and said, âAnd who protects Liam from Axel?'
Mr Marks grabbed the pie from Axel's hands, and threw it on the table. He glared at Liam in disgust. âIs this what you call a friend? Making a fool of you in front of the whole school?'
Liam wiped the pie from his face. He could feel himself go red. He looked around, and sure enough everyone in the cafeteria was having a good laugh at him. He was angry at himself for allowing it, but angrier still at the teacher. Why was he the one getting into trouble? Why not Axel?
âDo you enjoy being a wimp, Liam? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have somebody actually admire you?'
Liam wanted to yell at his teacher to shut up. But he couldn't find his voice.
The teacher turned from him in disgust. âGet yourself cleaned up. Or don't bother. There's probably somebody else wants to stick a pie in your face anyway.'