Authors: Jacqueline Wilson
He turns almost as red as his hair and looks totally idiotic. Magda gazes at him as if he’s a Keanu or a Brad. She sighs and stretches her arms, making out they’re aching. This action has an amazing effect on her school blouse. The buttons strain. Greg positively
A foul little gang of Year Eights are ogling too, nudging each other and making disgusting comments. Magda shakes her head at them. She makes a pithy comment that indicates they have been exercising their own arms more than somewhat. Then she looks back at Greg. Her blue eyes have a positively lighthouse beam. “You’re not any good at maths, are you, Greg? I’m
She’s not, actually. I’m the one who can’t even add up correctly using a calculator. Nadine’s not much better. Magda is always the girl who does
maths homework, but now she’s acting like she’s got candy floss for a brain.
“I’m OK at maths, actually,” says Greg. “What’s the problem, then?”
“Oh, it’s ever so complicated,” says Magda. “And look, isn’t that the bus coming? I don’t get on the bus, I’m just here with my friend. Look, Greg, do you ever go to the McDonald’s near the market?”
“Sure I do.”
“Well, how about if we meet up there? Half seven, something like that? And I’ll bring my stupid maths with me and see if you can make me understand it, OK?”
“Yes, sure,” said Greg. “Half seven. Right.”
“It’s a date,” says Magda, retrieving her schoolbag and giving Greg a dazzling smile. She turns to me—and winks.
So now Magda’s got herself a boyfriend too. In less than five minutes.
Greg waves after her as he gets on the bus. I wonder if he might sit next to me as I’m Magda’s friend, but he barges straight past and sits with some other Anderson boys who have already got on. He’s talking rapidly, obviously showing off that he’s scored with Magda.
I sit all by myself. I am starting to feel seriously depressed. So. I didn’t tell Magda and Nadine I was making it all up. I didn’t get a chance, did I? And Nadine has got a real boyfriend. And now Magda has got one too, just like that. Why can’t
chat someone up the way she can?
I gaze round the bus in desperation. There are two nerdy Year Ten Anderson boys sitting across the way from me, earnestly discussing some stupid sci-fi stuff. They look like beings from another planet themselves but I’m so desperate I’ll try anything.
I bare my teeth at them in a big cheesy grin. They reel back as if I’m a rabid dog about to bite. I cover my teeth and cower in my seat. It’s no use. I’m not like Magda.
Oh, God, I feel so fed up. I’m never ever going to get a boyfriend. No boy in the entire world is ever going to fancy me.
No. I am wrong. When I get home there is a letter waiting for me.
I hate about school
1. It starts too early.
2. The teachers—ESPECIALLY Mrs. Henderson and Miss Trumper.
4. PE—even yuckier.
5. The sarcastic way the teachers tell you off.
6. The bitchy way girls whisper behind your back.
7. Having to rush everywhere and getting all sweaty.
8. The worry about the pale gray school skirt the first day of your period.
9. Homework—and we have such HEAPS now we’re in Year Nine.
four in the family
Hello! It’s me, Dan. Sorry this is such jiggly writing. I’m scribbling this going home in the car and various sprogs keep jogging me and my mum is driving and she’s a total maniac—she does a ninety-mile-an-hour dash down the motorway and then when one of the kids starts screaming for a wee she screeches to a halt on the hard shoulder in seconds so that we practically hurtle through the windscreen.
This is not romantic subject matter for a love letter. OK, shall I try to be romantic? I should make up a super romantic fable about a fair maiden languishing in a tower being rescued by a handsome knight. A Welsh fable, set in a Welsh castle. Like THE MABINOGION. That’s those old Welsh tales I told you about. They’re written down in a White book and a Red book. Well, this isn’t a book, it’s a scrappy letter, and you’re not fair, you’re dark, and I’m not handsome. You can say that again. I know you think I’m nerdy and nutty. Well, I’m wordy as well as nerdy. And OK, who cares if I’m nuts? I’m nuts about you. I wish we didn’t live so far away. But you can come on a visit to my place any time. If you don’t mind being surrounded by all my stupid siblings. Or I can come and visit you??? Hint hint!
Love from Dan
P.S. It was truly great meeting you.
he were older. And not so daft. And good-looking.
“Who’s it from, then?” asks Anna, stirring soup at the stove. She tastes it delicately. “More pepper, Eggs. Carefully.”
Eggs likes cooking. He even helps make eggs Benedict, his namesake. Well, he’s called Benedict, Anna’s slightly poncey choice, but no one’s ever called him that. He started off as Baby Benny and for the last two years he’s been Eggs. Possibly Pickled. Sometimes Scrambled. Often
“It’s just some silly scribble from Dan,” I say, stuffing the letter into my pocket.
Anna raises her eyebrows. “I
you’d made a hit there.”
“For God’s sake, Anna, he’s only
. Don’t be crazy.”
“I like that Dan. Oh, great, is he your boyfriend?” Eggs burbles, shaking pepper enthusiastically.
“Careful, Eggs. Just a
” says Anna, catching hold of his wrist.
“Pinch pinch pinch,” Eggs giggles, pretending to pinch her arm.
“Idiot boy,” says Anna fondly, turning him upside down and tickling his exposed tummy.
“I’m going to do my homework,” I say.
I usually hang around the kitchen for a bit first but I don’t particularly enjoy watching Anna and Eggs together. It always makes me feel weird. Like I was jealous or something. Not that I want to play about with Eggs in the slightest. And I certainly don’t want Anna tickling me! She’d fall flat on her back if she tried to pick me up anyway. I weigh much more than her already, even though she’s heaps taller.
Anna never tried any romping, tickling, cuddling mumsie stuff with me. I’m too old and she’s too young. Of course there’s far more of an age gap between Anna and Dad. He’s nearly old enough to be
dad. He teaches art and Anna was a student at his college. Dad didn’t teach her. She did textiles. She used to work part-time as a design consultant but that firm went bust so she’s been looking for a new opening for ages. Dad still teaches at the college. The students haven’t gone back yet but he’s out at some college meeting nevertheless.
“Hang on a tick, Ellie,” says Anna. “I don’t know when your dad’s going to get back. You know what he’s like. But I’m supposed to be starting this Italian evening class tonight, so you wouldn’t be an angel and put Eggs to bed for me?”
“Look, like I
I’ve got all this homework,” I whine. For a while. And then I change tack and point out that other girls get paid for being a baby-sitter.
“Cheek! I’m not a
” Eggs intervenes. “Why is it baby-
anyway? They don’t sit on the baby, do they?”
“Shut up, Eggs, or I’ll take great delight in sitting on you,” I say.
I do agree in the end. Very very reluctantly. Though I can’t see why Anna’s making such a point of starting up this Italian evening class. It’s not as if we’re going to romp in Rome or flourish in Florence. We will get wet in Wales, as always.
She gets Eggs all bathed and ready for bed after supper, so all I’m supposed to do is supervise his last wee and stuff him into bed. Ha ha.
He starts capering about like a monkey and whenever I catch him he screams and giggles and squirms. When Dad comes in at last Eggs runs down the hall to him yelling at the top of his voice.
“Hey, hey! Why aren’t you in bed, Mr. Eggs-and-Bacon?” says Dad. He looks at me reproachfully. “You shouldn’t get him so excited before he goes to bed, Ellie, he’ll be too worked up to sleep.”
fault!!! That’s the thanks I get. And it’s dead annoying because Eggs does quieten down with Dad. He snuggles up on his lap and Dad reads him a Little Bear story. Eggs smiles angelically and gently strokes each picture of Little Bear with his finger.
Little Bear books, actually. I can’t ever remember Dad reading them to me. Not when I was all sleepy and snuggled up like that.
“What’s up, Ellie?” Dad says suddenly. “Are you sulking?”
sulking. I’m just sitting here. There’s no crime in that, is there?”
Dad,” Eggs insists. “Don’t talk to Smelly Ellie.”
“Eggs!” says Dad—but he chuckles.
Suddenly I can’t stand either of them. It’s suffocating even being in the same room as them. I stalk off to my bedroom and put on some music. Loud.
I suppose I ought to make a start on all this horrible homework but I catch sight of myself in the mirror and my hair looks awful, sort of exploding in all directions, so I have to brush it into submission and experiment with different hairstyles. I can scrunch it up into a little topknot so it looks neater—almost OK—but then it makes my face look so much fatter. Oh, God, my face
fatter. It’s like a huge great white beach ball, and I’m getting a spot on my chin, and there’s a little one on my nose too, a pink-and-white polka-dot beach ball. I can’t
spots. Anna says I should never ever touch them but it’s OK for her, she’s got this incredible English rose skin, I don’t think she’s ever had a spot in her life.
I have a little squeezing session. It doesn’t help. I feel so ugly. No wonder I haven’t got a boyfriend. No one will ever want to go out with me. Apart from Dan. And he’s so shortsighted even
would probably run away from me screaming if he polished up his specs and saw me properly.
I pick up his letter and read it again. Dad suddenly comes barging into my room.
“Dad! You’re not supposed to come into my room without
knock. You just didn’t hear me because of that awful row. Turn it
. I’ve just put Eggs to bed.”
Eggs Eggs Eggs Eggs Eggs. I see him as a row of Humpty Dumptys sitting on a wall. I tip them off one at a time, smash smash smash smash smash.
“Oh, of course, we mustn’t disturb the boy wonder,” I say, switching off my CD player. “OK? Happy now? Total silence so His Little Lordship can nod off in peace.”
“I didn’t say you had to turn it off altogether,” says Dad. “What’s
with you, Ellie? You’re so prickly all the time now.” He comes closer, tugging at his beard the way he always does when he’s worried. “Hey, what have you done to your face? It’s bleeding.”
“I haven’t done anything,” I say, covering my chin with my hand. “Now would you mind leaving me alone so I can get on with my homework?”
“That’s not homework. It’s a letter. Who’s it from, eh?”
letter, Dad,” I say, crumpling it up. Not quite quickly enough. He sees the end bit.
“ ‘Love from Dan’! It’s a love letter!” he says.
“No, it isn’t!”
“So who on earth is this Dan? When did you get yourself a boyfriend, Ellie?”
a boyfriend! Will you just mind your own business,
” I say, stuffing the stupid letter in my skirt pocket.
When Dad’s gone I sigh deeply and put my head in my arms. I think about crying but actually fall asleep. I wake up with a stiff neck. I find I can’t sleep when I go to bed.
Dad puts his head round the door when he comes upstairs to bed himself. “Are you asleep, Ellie?” he whispers.
“Anna told me about the boyfriend. He’s that weird brainy kid in the anorak, right?”
“Wrong wrong wrong. He is
my boyfriend. Oh, God, I’m getting so sick of this,” I say, putting my head under the pillow.
“OK, OK. Calm down. Sorry. Anna says I shouldn’t tease you. Ellie?”
I stay underneath the pillow. There’s a pause. Then I feel a slight pressure as he bends forward.
“Nightie nightie,” Dad whispers, kissing the pillow instead of me.
I wait. Then I whisper, “Pajama pajama.” I take the pillow off my face. But Dad’s gone out of the room already.
I still can’t sleep. I hang on to the pillow for something to cuddle. I wish I’d kept some of my cuddly toys from when I was little. I had this blue elephant called Nellie and when I was Eggs’s age I always had to lug her around with me. I talked to her constantly as if she was real, so you didn’t just get me then, you got an Ellie-and-Nellie package.
I also had a panda called Bartholomew and a giraffe called Mabel and a big rag doll with orange hair called Marmalade.
I had really grown out of them all by the time Eggs was born, apart from Nellie. When Eggs started crawling he ignored all his own new cuddly toys and always wanted mine.
We once had a fight over Nellie. Eggs was screaming and screaming and wouldn’t give her back. I could see it was a bit ridiculous, a girl like me wrestling with a toddler over a dirty toy elephant with a wonky trunk—but I wouldn’t give up. And then Eggs was suddenly sick all over Nellie. I insisted he’d done it on purpose. I said Nellie was spoilt forever. My mother had made her for me when I was little. I bawled like a baby.
Anna sluiced Nellie down and put her in the washing machine. She ended up a rather naff pale mauve and her stuffing went lumpy. She was still Nellie but I insisted she was spoilt and I threw her in the dustbin.
I wish I hadn’t. I wished it almost the minute the dustmen carted her off. I know it’s totally mad but I still sometimes think of her now, lying amongst rotting Chinese takeaways and soggy teabags on some stinking rubbish tip, her trunk crumpled in despair.
I threw all my other toys out when I redecorated my room, wanting to change everything, to stop being that sad silly dreamy fat girl. I wanted to remodel a new shiny hip version of Ellie to match my new room. I painted it bright blue with red furniture and yellow curtains, primary colors for a very secondary style. I tried to be bright and snappy and cheerful to match but I couldn’t keep it up. In fact right now I feel so dark and dreary and dismal I feel my matching habitat would be down a drain.
I clutch the pillow close. When I was younger I used to have Nadine sleep over at my house at least once a week. We’d never bother with camp beds and sleeping bags, we’d just snuggle up together in my bed. Nadine’s not the cuddliest of girls, her elbows are sharp and she’s very wriggly, but it was great fun all the same. We’d make up ghost stories so gross and gory that I’d have nightmares when we eventually got to sleep, but that was OK too because I could hang on to Nadine and feel the knobs on her spine as I cuddled up against her, her long hair tickling my face.
Only now Nadine has got Liam to cuddle. I still can’t believe it even though I’ve met him now. I wonder how she got on with him on their walk. And Magda with Greg. Nadine and Liam, Magda and Greg, Ellie and no one at all . . .
I drift off to sleep at long last. I dream. Ellie and Dan. Not the real Dan—the pretend boy, the one with blond hair and brown eyes. He waits for me outside school and we go off for a walk together down by the river. He holds my hand while we’re walking along the street but when we get to the secluded riverside he pulls me close, his arms go round me, he whispers lovely things, he lifts my hair and kisses my neck, my ears, my mouth, we’re kissing properly, it’s so beautiful, we’re lying on the mossy bank, entwined, I am his and he is mine and he whispers that he loves me, that he loved me from the moment we first set eyes on each other when he dodged round the parked car and we nearly collided, and I whisper that I love him too.
“I love you,” I whisper, and I wake up. I’ve never had such a vivid dream. I can still see the dappled sunlight on our skin, smell the honey musk of his chest, hear the beat of his heart, feel the warmth of his body . . .
That is where I am, where I want to stay. I’m a stranger in this banal world of bathroom and breakfast. I won’t say a word as I sip coffee and spoon cornflakes. We sit at the table, Dad, Anna, Eggs and me. Four sides of the table, four members of a family, but they don’t seem to have any connection with me whatsoever.
Dad is saying something to me but I’m not listening. It seems so strange that the only reason I’m sitting at this table is that the eight pints of blood in his body are similar to mine. He’s just a plump middle-aged guy with an embarrassing haircut and beard—way too old to wear that silly T-shirt. That small boy with the yelping laugh choking on his cornflakes has even less to do with me. The calm woman in her white shirt nothing at all.
She’s saying something about me missing the bus if I’m not careful, and she’s right. It’s there at the stop when I’m only halfway down the road. I could try running, but I don’t want my skirt to ride up even further, and besides, maybe I don’t really
to catch the boring old bus. I can always walk to school. Just in case . . .
So I walk, past the bus stop, down the street, round the corner. The parked car’s not there, he’s not there either . . .
YES HE IS
! That’s him, right down at the end. Walking toward me!