Authors: Eleanor Wood
lives in Brighton, where she can mostly be found hanging around in cafes and record shops, running on the beach, pretending to be French and/or that it’s the ‘60s, and writing deep into the night. Her work has previously been published in magazines such as
. Her erstwhile lo-fi fanzine,
Shocking Blues and Mean Reds
, won praise from the
, Lauren Laverne and
magazine, among others.
These days, you can read her personal and ill-thought-out ramblings on her blog,
The Perfect Mixtape
, or more succinctly on Twitter at @eleanor_wood.
Huge gratitude to my brilliant and lovely agent, Caroline Hardman – who, luckily for me, is as tenacious as she is clever.
Massive thanks to my wonderful editor at Harlequin, Anna Baggaley – for being as enthusiastic about
as I am.
Thank you to the people I love most in this world – Mum, Dad, Jimmy, Katy, Nan and Lilly – for always being awesome and supportive. I’m so lucky you’re all on my team. Special mention to Jimmy for actually
to live with a crazy Gemini – 143.
Thanks to Vinod, James and the staff of
for keeping me fed and entertained throughout the writing of this book.
Thank you to Joyce Lambert for astrological guidance – purely personal rather than conceptual, thus all schoolgirl errors are my own (and, of course, deliberate).
An appreciative salute to the people who made my life technicolour when I was seventeen, and continue to do so – Tom Allnutt, Rachael Ayres, Ali Bastian, Louise Chadbone and Neil Symons.
So many brilliant friends and family have helped and inspired me in too many ways to mention here – I hope that you know who you are and that I am grateful.
For my family – you know who you are
Have you ever met anyone who’s in technicolour? I mean, like really in glorious technicolour, so that they make the rest of the world look black and white, and you suddenly realise what you’ve been missing all your life?
It’s a bit like in
The Wizard of Oz
when Dorothy gets to Oz and her shoes are all ruby red and sparkling, and she realises that Kansas was just shades of grey. OK, so even if you don’t think in these weird analogies and stupid old film images like I do, I bet you know what I mean.
Well, that’s what the twins were like. Full colour in a world of black and white. Times two. I’d been waiting so long just for something, anything, to happen, how was I to know that when it did, it would all go so wrong? I couldn’t possibly have known that maybe living in black and white is better than crashing into all the colours of the sun and getting burned.
But, back then, it was like I didn’t know anything. All I could see were the beautiful colours. I was blinded. It’s no excuse, I know, but it’s true.
It’s easy to forget that the twins ever existed, now all that’s left is the aftermath, the death and destruction they left behind. That’s not so easy to forget. At the time, it all seemed like so much fun, like something was finally happening – and that wasn’t so bad, was it?
‘Sorana! Come on! We’re late!’
I’m in my apocalyptically messy bedroom, my favourite band, Trouble Every Day, blasting on the stereo. I’m staring critically at myself in the mirror, peering within the nest of postcards and stickers that cover up the edges, wondering if the fact that my skirt is rolled over four times at the waist makes me look like an unfortunate teenage pregnancy victim, wishing I’d got up half an hour earlier to wash my stringy brown hair, and hoping my mum won’t notice the thick smearing of eyeliner hidden under my too-long fringe. If I keep my head down between now and school, I might just get away with it.
Seriously, I need something to make up for the fact that my life is spent in the purgatory of a burgundy school uniform. It’s the worst uniform I’ve ever seen; it actually involves a kilt and knee socks – no tights allowed. Let’s face it – at the age of nearly seventeen, it’s really pushing it to still be dressing us like some sort of deranged Lolita-themed strippers. Especially when they’re still locking us up in an all-girls’ school so that we allegedly won’t get ourselves into trouble – where’s the logic?
Yes, I did say nearly seventeen. I’m in the Lower Sixth – or Year Twelve as I believe they call it in some more modern institutions – not that you’d know it. After GCSEs, I begged my mum to let me go to the local community college instead – where I could do normal things like wear my own clothes and walk into town to go to Subway at lunchtime, not to mention actually learn how to talk to boys my own age – but she insisted that I stayed on for my school’s sixth form. She kept on so much about how proud of me she was for winning a scholarship and how she’d have killed to have had my advantages when she was my age – until eventually I decided it was best just to shut up and put up.
So, that’s why I’m nearly seventeen and still in school uniform, constantly getting in trouble about my voluminous eyeliner and scruffy hair, because the school dress code specifies neat ponytails and ‘natural make-up only’ for sixth formers.
‘Sorana Salem! Ready in ten seconds or we’re going without you!’
If only. Like my mum can talk – as I come down the stairs, she’s still hopping about in the hallway, frantically searching for a missing high heel. She’s worse than I am in the mornings, if that’s possible. She’s so scatty at home, you wouldn’t think that she has this big, important job as a headhunter – apparently not as gruesome as it sounds, but still pretty hardcore.
My little sister, Daisy, is watching the ubiquitous repeats of
on TV, the very picture of serenity, while she patiently waits for us to be ready. Daisy is three years younger than me, and we get on despite the fact that she often seems more mature than I am and makes me feel completely inept. She has a huge gang of friends who are considered the cool girls of her class; she makes it all look so effortless, as if she just magically knows how to look pretty all the time and make people like her.
‘Right! Let’s move it! Sorana, have you eaten anything?’
I shake my head, keeping my fringe over my eyes. The toaster pops and my mum shoves a chocolate Pop-Tart in my blazer pocket as we’re all hustling out the door. I love my mum; I know it’s not cool, but I really do.
One thing I don’t love, though, is that she insists upon driving me to school every morning bang on eight o’clock, just because she has to get to work early. I’d do anything not to have to be so early for school that I’m the first one there every single bloody morning. Still, I know that my mum already feels guilty enough about the amount of time she spends at work, so I don’t give her a hard time about it; like most things in my life, I keep quiet and hope that everyone’s happy.
‘Bye, darlings. Have a great day – don’t let the bastards grind you down.’ Mum roars off as soon as Daisy and I spill out of the car – well, I spill and Daisy elegantly skips.
‘See ya later, Daisy Chainsaw.’ I ruffle her perfect – thick, glossy – little cow – hair before she disappears in the direction of her Year Nine classroom, and I shuffle about and kill as much time as humanly possible before heading past the ‘old building’ and up the stairs to the Lower Sixth common room. Having been at St Therese’s for six long years, it is still not lost on me just how bloody weird a place it is. In a nutshell: small, strict, religious,
. I’m counting the days until I can get out. All I can think is: at least it’s Friday, if nothing else.
The common room is deserted. The only concessions to it being nominally a ‘common room’ rather than boring old pre-GCSEs ‘classroom’ are subtle, to say the least. There’s a kettle so that we can make coffee, or more usually instant hot chocolate, at break times, and an ancient threadbare sofa in one corner to sit on while we drink it. Other than that, it’s a pretty standard classroom: a big, square space filled with rows of old-fashioned wooden desks, with one wall comprising an enormous window overlooking the road below and the forbidden freedom it represents.
I take advantage of the solitude to give the picture of Vincent August – lead singer and guitarist of Trouble Every Day – on my locker door a brief, ironic kiss, before grabbing my current recreational reading matter – William S. Burroughs, as you asked – and slouching down into my allocated plastic chair.
You may wonder why I wouldn’t sit on the sofa, as it’s there. The answer’s about to walk into the room, just as she does every morning – the next person after me to arrive each day.
Right on cue, Amie Bellairs strolls in. We nod ‘good morning’ at each other, but I don’t look up from my book. If I added up all of the cumulative time that the two of us have spent, just us, alone in a room together, it would probably be hundreds upon hundreds of hours. Yet we never, ever speak.
I don’t hate her, I don’t think she
hates me – but we have literally nothing to say to each other. Well, unless she’s whispering to her gaggle of cronies that I’m a freak with weird taste in music and clothes and, most crucially, skinny chicken legs and no tits.
She conducts her morning mini-routine just like I did, and I could tell you what she’s doing with my eyes closed: gummy pink lip-gloss applied, a final check of blonde hair in a mirror compact, crappy fashion magazine at the ready before curling up, cat-like, on the sofa. There’s easily room enough for both of us on there but that’s not the point. It’s not my territory, just like the back seat of the bus on school trips wasn’t when I was eleven.
Although none of it would ever exit my mouth, I still find myself trying to think of things I could say to fill the silence: ‘So, are you doing anything at the weekend?’; or, ‘Anything exciting there in
magazine – pockets in or out this year?’ I already know the answers: ‘Going to The Crown with the girls, of course,’ as she and her friends do every weekend; and ‘Are you taking the piss?’
The irony is that some of the girls in my class think I’m spiky or even stuck up, just because I generally stay quiet and out of the way, keeping my nose in a book as often as I can. Do they seriously not understand that the book is a shield? It’s the only thing I’ve got.
I once heard there’s a saying in French that means ‘the wit of the staircase’, or, in other words, the perfect response you think of five minutes after a conversation has finished – well, that’s me. For someone who’s supposed to be quite clever, I seem to spend a lot of my time feeling incredibly stupid.
As you can probably gather, the reason that Amie Bellairs and I don’t speak in the mornings is not only because we have nothing in common, but because we exist in different universes. She is a part of what I privately refer to in my head as ‘the A Group’ – not that they have anything as lame as an official name or I would ever say this to their faces. They’re ‘A’ not only because they’re clearly at the top of the pile – pretty, reasonably clever but not unusually so, the ones who always seem to know whether it’s cooler to wear your school shirt tucked in or out – but because a bizarrely high proportion of them seem to have names that begin with the letter ‘A’. As well as Amie, there’s an Alice, Amanda and two Alexandras (Alex and Lexy). Other than the anomaly that is Katey Sewell – but she’s tiny and elfin and the most gorgeous thing you’ve seen in your life, so of course she’s in the A Group regardless of name.
It’s kind of a weird thing. I don’t really want to be like them, but I’m jealous of them anyway. I just wish I could fit in as easily as that, but I seem to be incapable of it. My mum says it’s because I’m a Gemini – I can never make up my mind about anything.
A couple of other girls come in before I bother to abandon my book, knowing it’s only going to be Sabrina Robinson, who’s too busy talking to her boyfriend on her mobile phone to notice that anyone else is even in the building, and then Alice Pincott, whose first initial says it all. These few minutes are the worst, every morning. With Sabrina otherwise engaged and oblivious, Amie and Alice huddle up together and begin a gossipy, whispered conversation. Every so often they will dramatically ‘shush’ each other and giggle, then glare in my direction as if to punish me for daring even to be in the same room as them. You’d think I was going to sell my story to the tabloids from the fuss that they make.
As usual, I could almost cry with joy by the time Nathalie bursts into the room, cheeks flushed and crazy curls flying, barely managing to hold a schoolbag and coordinate her limbs at once.
‘Hey.’ A few sheets of paper go flying out of her folder as she sits down next to me. ‘Did you do the French homework? I couldn’t even understand the first question.’
Poor Nathalie didn’t even want to stay on for A levels – her scary mum not only insisted, but made her take all the academic subjects that she’s crap at. Anyway, I feel her pain – I’m able to come to her rescue in French, but I know what it’s like to be completely clueless at a subject. I thought that starting the A level course would be brilliant because I could finally concentrate on the things I’m good at and enjoy – English, French, Spanish and AS Sociology – and if everything had gone according to plan, it would have been. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a brain for Maths – I just don’t get it. I didn’t even manage to scrape a pass at GCSE, and the school would only let me keep my scholarship and stay on for sixth form if I signed up to take a resit this summer. So, embarrassingly for someone who’s always been in the top stream for everything else, I am doing one-to-one remedial maths tuition this year.
While Nathalie is halfway through painstakingly copying my French verb conjugations – although she promised to add in a few mistakes so as to make our subterfuge less obvious – Shimmi dashes in at the last minute – again, as usual, but you’ve probably figured that out yourself.
‘What’s up, my bitches?’ She winks one minxy green eye as she chucks herself into her seat. Fortunately, there’s no time to reply – as the only obvious conclusion is that, yes, we are kind of her bitches – before Miss Webb marches through the door.
And we’re off to the start of another thrilling day of education and socialisation. Registration – to ensure that all sixteen of us, and yes that’s my whole year group, are fully present and correct – then filing down the stairs and back along the catwalk to chapel. Yes, that’s right again – I did say chapel. See, I told you this place was weird.
The morning’s in full boring swing and we are halfway through the essentially pointless General Studies, which we are all forced to take. In every other sixth form I’ve ever heard of, you get to have free periods, but here they fill them with things like General Studies or the even more nebulous ‘Study’, for which you have to sign into the school library or there’s hell to pay. They even do registration twice a day, to make double sure that we can’t escape.
So, you can imagine my delight – well hidden, of course – when the class is interrupted with a knock on the door. Miss Webb, our form teacher and deputy head, nods at the General Studies teacher, Mrs Winterton, as though they have pre-arranged this, as Mrs Winterton steps out of the way and sits down at a spare desk at the back of the room.
‘Girls, if I can have your attention for a few moments, please – and, yes, that also means you, Alice Pincott – then I’d just like to have a quick word with you all. Now, I know we’ve already started the summer term, so you probably weren’t expecting any new girls this year. Well, a bit of mid-term excitement for you, as we have two new girls starting in the Lower Sixth next week. In fact, they’re twins – Elyse and Melanie Johansson. Identical twins – so I’m sure you can have fun trying to tell them apart, and play all sorts of amusing tricks on us teachers. Elyse and Melanie will be coming in for the afternoon today for a visit, and then all being well will officially join the class next week. Any questions? Yes, Lexy?’
‘How come they’re starting in the middle of term, just like that?’
‘Well, there’s no great mystery but they left their last school unexpectedly, and we think they’ll fit in very well here, so we’ll all do our best to make them feel welcome and get straight into a normal routine with the minimum of fuss. This is important, girls – do you think you can do that? Make the twins feel welcome and really make an effort to be friendly and positive, as I know you all are?’
There is a general muttering of agreement but Shimmi, as she often does, says what we are all thinking.
‘Miss? How come you’re asking us this, like it’s a big deal? We’ve never had that with any other new girls.’
We all know she’s right. This has never happened before – not even when Jo Whitley started at the beginning of sixth form, and she clearly has an eating disorder and mental problems, or Helen Kennedy, who is lovely but so slow there’s no way she could have passed the entrance exam like a normal person.
In our school, there are basically three types. The ‘A’s, as I’ve already explained, who are pretty much medium-clever and whose parents are always just about rich enough to pay the school fees. The scholarship girls – like Shimmi and me, and Emily Waldron, who’s supernaturally good at music, and can play piano and violin practically at once.