4

Sometimes life turns to custard. Not the yummy kind, but something slimy and flavourless and which leaves a bad aftertaste in the mouth.

I growled in frustration and ripped off the page. I hated creative writing, due in large part to my lack of creativity, but also the fact that I can't write. Unfortunately for me, English is a compulsory subject, which means that I might as well keel over and save Mr Baxter the trouble. It's so unfair, who cares if I don't know what a transitive verb is, and will anyone ever ask me to dissect a sentence? A frog, maybe…

My fingers drummed the table in its own Mexican-wave. What to write, what to write?

I sit here, staring at the wall, listening to the trees sing…

Ugh, I'm just begging for that F now.

I don't think it helped that my bedroom faced directly into the Lorder's kitchen. It's become something of a perversion for me to count how many times James came down for a snack on head-banging-days like this. That boy sure had a healthy appetite. Sadly he wasn't in the house today, either that or he was on a hunger strike.

Feeling bored, I turned back to my laptop and reread the two lines I had written. My muse did not grace me with her presence.

I opened up a web browser and promised myself that I would only play one round in order for my brain to gain a new perspective. Two hours later with four hundred and sixty-two words still to write, I regretted clicking on that link just a little. A torrent of hopelessness was threatening to drag me under in its wake when I heard Steve call me to dinner.

My appetite was limited due to the black-hole of panic dragging down any hope that might not have been extinguished. I excused myself from dinner early and spent the rest of the night furiously tapping out enough words to satisfy the word-count.

The next day at lunch I told Aubrey about my predicament.

"Let me see," she said. I picked a baby carrot off her plate before I rummaged through my bag to retrieve my draft.

I watched her read through it and it didn't take long before I figured out what she thought about my work.

"Don't dislocate your jaw," I said sarcastically. Aubrey's smirk was getting ridiculous.

"Sorry." She gave it back. "I definitely think it's an improvement over the last one though."

"An improvement over the one where you asked me if 'monkeys wrote it,' then proceeded to tell me that it probably would've been better if monkeys did write it, is that the one you're referring to?"

"Have some yogurt, Kare."

I let out a dramatic wail and buried my head in my arms, "What am I going to do?"

"Get a tutor?"

I groaned. "Kill me."

"When's a good time for you?" A voice behind me asked.

"Ha, ha," I said flatly, turning around to face the joker.

It was James. Of course it was. What other person would be so rude as to barge uninvited into someone else's conversation with an insult?

"Hi, James," Aubrey said. "You wanna sit down?"

Turncoat.

"Hey." He flashed her a brilliant smile. Yet when he faced me again, his smile had turned into a sneer.

Needless to say, lunch became unsavoury after that. And it's testament of the scope of my annoyance that I didn't even smile at the pun. Aubrey seemed enamoured with him and utterly imperceptible to the underlying tension between us, so what could I do but endure the ordeal mutely and amuse myself by decapitating my fries.

"…I'm not too into playing dress-up and prancing around the stage."

That caught my attention. Anyone deriding the theatre riled me up. Just because he had no talent for the stage didn't mean he should criticise it. I don't like dressing up in short shorts in the middle of winter to kick a little ball around, but I don't complain about it. Except in gym.

"First of all, you're thinking of ballet," I said. "Secondly, you're just jealous."

"Excuse me?"

"Acting is an art, something you probably can't comprehend. I mean, you've probably been hit in the head on the field one too many times to really appreciate the nuances and meaning of a higher intellectual entertainment."

"I don't play football."

"Oh. So this is your natural level of intelligence…? I'm sorry…" I looked away as if embarrassed by the accidental insult. "Don't feel bad," I said in a placating tone. "It's not your fault that you prefer running around chasing some stupid ball along with the rest of your pack."

"Says the girl who got C plus in her math test."

"That was a practice test!" I protested, feeling my cheeks heat up at his taunt. "I would have studied if it had counted."

"Yeah, 'cos once you move up to that B minus Harvard and Yale will be beating down your door with offers."

"We're doing Jesus Christ Superstar this year!" Aubrey interrupted suddenly, and a little shrilly. "You should audition, James. They'll need plenty of males."

James caught my eye. "And one whore."

"Hey!" I yelled in indignation.

"What?" he asked innocently. "I didn't say it was you. Aubrey didn't take offence, did she?"

I narrowed my eyes and warned him not to mess with me.

He snorted softly, folded his arms and called my bluff.

"You know what?" Aubrey said, interrupting our silent duel. "I totally forgot I need to pick up a book from the library. See you guys later." Then she bolted.

Gee, thanks, my true blue.

I reluctantly turned my attention back to James, who was still looking at me with a half-smirk.

"I doubt you can even get the part anyway," he said.

I snorted. "Clearly you have no clue, because everyone knows I'm the best actress here."

"J Lo and Whitney Houston your role models, huh?"

"Well, it's true," I defended. But perhaps it did fall on the diva side of the fence.

James shrugged. "Stacey's auditioning too and I hear she's pretty good."

Now he was pushing my buttons on purpose.

"She's delusional."

"Sure," he said with a mocking grin.

"You don't believe me?"

"I try," he drawled, "but it just seems so unbelievable."

"Watch and see, then."

He stood up, but before he left, tossed out one last remark. "What gave you the idea that I would waste my time on you?"

My only attack left was mean thoughts and I unleashed all my firepower on James until he disappeared behind the swinging cafeteria doors.

For the rest of lunch I went over to Marie's table and hung out with some of the girls in my English class. It was a relief to talk and gossip with people who didn't hate me after the episode with James. By the time the bell rang I had pretty much forgotten my irritation.

"… The subject matter was interesting, but to be honest, I thought it was a waste of time. For a book with such a sensational title it was very disappointing. I was so confused by what he was trying to say." Stacey was telling Mr Baxter as we walked in to English.

"You're right. He has a great deal to say, but it's surrounded by so much inarticulate prose that his argument is greatly diluted." He noticed us and smiled in welcome before returning to his discussion. "Did you take a look at his website?"

"That was a big help, but I don't think a book should come with its own instruction manual."

He laughed. "That's a very good point."

"Well, hopefully this one will be less pathetic," she said, picking up a thick hardcover book on the table beside her. "See you tomorrow, Mr Baxter."

"All right, take care," he said with a fond smile.

It was so like Stacey to be buttering up teachers that sometimes I think she talks more to them than she does to her 'friends.' Though 'cronies' may be a more apt description. She was the stereotypical cheerleader – blonde, mean and for the usual inexplicable reason, popular. I could see why boys may like her – she is pretty in a plastic, Barbie doll kind of way, but why girls bothered with her made no sense to me. Unless they're into S&M, maybe?

"Good weekend, girls?" he asked as we waited for the rest of the class to fill up.

It was a highlight the first day of school when we realised that he had replaced the ancient Mr Cho. Sadly we did not realise that under the pretty façade lay a sadistic monster. Here was a man unrelenting in his use of the torture system they called the Socratic method. It's not that I mind speaking up in class, but it gets a bit embarrassing once it's apparent that half my answers are way off the mark.

"Let's get on with our reading of Hamlet, then," Mr Baxter said after everyone had arrived. "Last scene of the play, let's make it good."

This school prides itself on its high academic achievements and Shakespeare has been a compulsory reading every year. I haven't always enjoyed the bard's tales, but Hamlet was surprisingly good. Much better than Romeo and Juliet. I won't start my rant on those two imbeciles, but suffice it to say that the world is a better place for their lack of contribution to the gene pool.

"Karyn, read as Horatio; Mark, Hamlet; James, Osric; Sarah, Queen Gertrude; and Josh as Laertes. I'll fill in the rest."

"So much for this, sir: now shall you see the other; You do remember all the circumstance?" Mark began.

I didn't mind this part of the course, and Hamlet was turning out to be pretty entertaining. I didn't expect a tragedy to have such genuinely witty lines. The footnotes helped with understanding the lines, so did Mr Baxter, who was freakishly knowledgeable about the play. If only we didn't have to beat every theme or symbol to death, which I knew we were going to have to do once we had read through the play.

"Take up the bodies: such a sight as this becomes the field, but here shows much amiss. Go, bid the soldiers shoot." Mr Baxter closed his book with that last line.

I exhaled deeply. Wow, they weren't kidding when they said everybody dies.

The overhead clock showed that there was still ten minutes to go, but many people had started to pack up in anticipation.

"Hold on, we're not done yet. Before you all leave I want to tell you quickly about your course requirement," Mr Baxter said, standing up to lean against his desk, his hands gripping the edge of the table.

The room quietened, though by no means did everyone abandon packing up entirely. They merely proceeded about the task slower, so that the noises were muffled.

"We'll be conducting a debate." Amidst the instant protests and moans he settled the class with a reassuring hand. "I can see you're all very excited about it," he said with a slight smile.

"Did you suffer from loss of hearing just then, Mr Baxter?" Julie asked glibly.

"I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that," he returned without missing a beat.

Several people groaned at the oldest joke in the book.

"All right," he said with a chuckle, "back to the debate. I've assigned everyone a partner already, and no, you can't swap either your partner or your topic. You may discuss your topic with your partner, but you'll be marked mainly on your own performance – how well you can speak orally and present your points across. It's the same as the speeches you've all been doing since kindergarten, so you've had plenty of practice."

He reached behind him and came back with a piece of paper.

"Don't worry yourselves too much at this point; just keep it in mind when we start discussing the play in depth tomorrow." His eyes roved the room. "It'll be fun," he said with an optimism not matched by many people in the class.

I was one of the people who were excited by the prospect. Hell, I was up for anything if it meant I didn't have to write anything. Not to brag or anything, but I always got excellent marks for my speeches.

"Karyn and James…"

I sat bolt upright. No way!

"You guys will be debating whether Hamlet was in fact insane during the course of the play."

From his seat two desks across and one up, James turned to me with an unfriendly face. He wasn't actively scowling, which was a surprise, so I didn't either.

The bell rang and I hastily shoved my books and pencil-case into my backpack.

"Karyn, I need to speak with you for a minute," Mr Baxter said over the noise.

I exchanged a tentative glance with Marie and trudged to his desk.

When the last student left, he said, "I want to discuss your creative writing assignments."

Uh oh.

"The ideas are very good, definitely interesting to read, but… the most I can do is pass you, and I have reservations about doing that." He looked apologetic. "You grammar is… not good."

I bit my bottom lip with a wince.

"It's not all bad. Grammar is much easier to fix than a lack of creativity. Get a tutor, learn the rules and I promise you your marks will see a significant improvement." He held my eyes for a moment and silently implored me to follow his advice. "I want to give you better marks, but I can't right now, and I don't want to see you fail because of something that could so easily be corrected. Do you understand me?"

I nodded grimly.

"Take this as a criticism, but don't let it paralyse you, all right?"

I nodded again.

"See you tomorrow," he said.

"See you." I swallowed the lump in my throat and closed the door gently on my way out.

Two hits in one day. And the day wasn't even over yet.

What class was next?

Physics.

Fantabulous.

Interesting note: 'fantabulous' is actually a word and recognised in MS Word.

We're finally getting close to some action! Sorry for the lateness of the chapter, but I had several tests and assignments plus absolutely no idea how to move the story forward. Everything after the first half of the lunchtime scene is new and the idea of having them do a speech didn't come to me until a few days ago.

What have I been doing with the rest of the time? I watched the second season of House and then went in search of Wilson/Cameron fics. It made me realise how spoilt I was by my previous pairings because these fics were everything people disliked about fanfiction. Maybe it's because Wilson/Cameron isn't exactly the most popular pairing, but the one time I move away from my usual hot, witty, evil characters... Speaking of, I found a really good Ginny/Draco fic called Draconis And Ginerva by cinnamon badge. It's an HP version of Romeo and Juliet (I actually do hate R&J) but this fic is written so well and it makes sense! It's believable and the whole thing doesn't happen in three days, (I can't remember if R&J did, but Westside Story certainly did.)