Rowdy voices shouted around her. Alex sat, hunched over her textbook, staring blankly at a page on the nervous system which she already knew by heart. Lines of text floated in her head, intermingled with the occasional chant of ‘It’s-not-fair-it’s-not-fair-it’s-not-fair’. She dragged her eyes up to the clock on the wall. 3:15.
This morning, Alex had bounced into school, brimming with excitement that had been building for weeks. Year Eleven was going on a trip to Thorpe Park, as a well-deserved break from their studies. Everyone was restless. However, just as Alex was about to board the coach with her best friend, Kalaya, she was stopped by her science teacher. Mrs Beckett informed her that she’d only scored 15% on the recent science mocks, clearly a result of ‘poor effort and lack of revision’. Which was ridiculous: she and Kal had spent hours agonising over all the elements!
Cutting through her protests, Mrs Beckett had announced that she would forgo the trip to revise instead…
And so Alex was abandoned at the back of a – horror of horrors –Year 7 class. There she’d sat the entire morning, besieged with questions of why she was here, what she was doing, and whether she thought Evie or Ashley was taller. After sitting alone at a table for lunch, she’d reluctantly returned to the classroom for another endless two hours. And all of this while her friends had fun at a theme park.
“Hey – you can go now.”
Evie poked her, and Alex started out of her brooding. It was 3:25 – finally! Scooping up her bag, she scurried out of the classroom. Maybe she could escape before her classmates came back, bursting to relate how fantastic their day was.
But when she stepped outside, she saw the coach had already arrived. Year Elevens teemed around it, chatting and laughing elatedly. Kal spotted her and ran over, looking concerned.
“Alex!” she exclaimed. “Why on earth didn’t you come? You missed so much, like-” She faltered at the sight of Alex’s gloomy face.
“Actually,” she said tactfully, “Alex Everett was sick everywhere on the coach, and you can imagine what that smelt like.” Alex smiled half-heartedly; it was nice of Kal to try and lift her mood, but she would have given anything to go, even if it meant sitting right next to Everett.
Then it clicked. Alex Evans. Alex Everett. Ignoring Kal’s bewildered look, she marched right up to Everett, a slight athlete who was mucking around with his mates.
“Hey – Alex Everett!” He broke off his sentence and turned. “Just curious, what did you get on those science mocks?” His face split into a wide grin.
“Oh, you heard? I got 86%. Crazy, huh? And I didn’t even revise!”
Alex turned on her heel and left.
As she walked home she didn’t notice the honking cars, green-tipped trees, or the sky streaked with colour. She was filled from head to toe with a black rage.
How did they make that mistake? Hadn’t they realised something was wrong? Why hadn’t she thought of getting Kal to confirm she’d revised? And again and again, a manic mantra: so, so, so unfair. Of course, she could reveal the school’s mistake. They’d be very apologetic. But what Alex really wanted was someone to moan to, just someone who would listen.
Alex arrived in front of her house, a small brick building with worn curtains, and hurried inside.
“You won’t believe what-” Alex stopped abruptly. It was pandemonium in their cramped living-room. Her two younger brothers were yelling over the blare of the television and battering at each other with pillows. Meanwhile, her dad was trying frantically to calm a distraught baby Sasha, clear up after the boys and get dinner sorted. However, his strained face relaxed into a smile when he saw Alex.
“Hi, darling! So, Thorpe Park- how was your day?”
Alex opened her mouth, then stopped. She looked at her dad. She saw the lines etched into his skin. She saw the bags under his eyes. She saw the worries that leeched the colour from his hair and the strength from his bones: that he couldn’t act as a mum and a dad, that his children would always be held back by his low income, and his guilt for sometimes wanting to walk out of there.
And Alex stretched a smile across her face, and started helping him clear up.