YOU'RE A FOOL, NATHAN BISHOP

- un -

"Do you think my legs are too pale?"

My father eyed the very nearly pure white leg I was waving at him. The leggings I was wearing were pulled up so they were right at the top of my thighs. This would surely cause offense to those who have a dislike for pasty skin if I wandered out of the house with them still hiked up.

"Yes," he answered honestly.

"Great," I said, nodding. "Thanks."

"You asked," he shrugged, and continued reading his newspaper.

I pulled the leggings back down. I think if I'd had fatter thighs they would have been baggy and unwearable because I'd stretched them, but lucky for me my legs are one shape up and down with no definition (I'm being sarcastic about the lucky part because I wish I had more shape to my body. I hate being skinny).

"Roshelle," my mother said in a reproachful voice, "If you wanted tanned legs you should have used that fake tan I bought you."

"Was it really fake tan?" I questioned. "It was moisturiser."

"Yes, and it tanned your legs," my mother said with a roll of her eyes. "Gradually, building up a natural and believable tan."

"It's not very natural or believable when the rest of my body is paler," I pointed out.

My father closed his newspaper with a rustle. "Don't argue," he said automatically, standing up. I heard his car keys jingle in his pocket.

"We're not arguing," my mother pouted.

"Fine. Good." He took his car keys out of his pocket and eyed the suitcase that was stood next to the door, waiting for my mother to put her shoes on. "Deirdre, can you hurry up please?" he asked. "Otherwise, Shelley will be late. She's supposed to be at school in..." He looked at the silver watch on his wrist. "Well, bugger me. She's supposed to be there right now."

My mother suddenly went into panic mode, stuffing her feet into her shoes and dashing towards the table to pick up her own set of keys. "Well, Richard, you should have said!" she scolded, grabbing her handbag. "Now you've made her late!"

She whirled out of the room, leaving my father and I stood in the living room.

"Should I really be there?" I asked him, picking up my rucksack from where it lay on the floor.

"No," he said, taking hold of the handle on my suitcase. "I just said that so she'd hurry up."

"It worked," I said pointlessly just as my mother cried, "Richard!"

A few minutes later, we were sat in our family car, driving to the local high school. I was sat in the back with my suitcase and rucksack, while my parents bickered in the front over the CD my father had chosen to play.

It was coming to the end of my Year 10, and as part of my GCSE French course I was going on a school trip to France. The trip lasted for four days (including two days for travelling) and we were also sharing the trip with some Year 9 pupils and some Year 8 pupils. I'd taken French for one reason, mainly, and that was that I already spoke the language fluently as my parents had owned a holiday home in the country for as long as I could remember. So going to France for four days wasn't really that exciting to me, as I'd already been there hundreds of times before.

We weren't even going on a plane. That's how great this trip was going to be.

Seeing as we had to drive down to the Channel Tunnel, we had to be at school at six o'clock in the morning. This early time didn't bother me so much – I was an early riser, you see – but as the car stopped in the school car park and I examined the other pupils waiting to go on the trip, no one else was as cheery about this early start as I was (not that I was particularly cheery).

"No one looks very happy," my mother remarked. "Maybe it's because we're late."

"We're not late, Mum," I said with a roll of my eyes. "It's only five to six now. Dad was shitting you."

"Roshelle," my mother said sharply. "Language!"

"Yeah, yeah," I muttered as I climbed out of the car.

There was a cluster of parents stood to one side in the car park, and then the rest of the students had got together in their year groups. The teachers were dotted around the car park, looking bored.

"Now, Roshelle, what do you have to do first?" my mother fussed, batting at imaginary dust on my shoulders.

"I have to give my passport to Mr Shayne," I responded, heaving my rucksack over my shoulder. My father had hauled my suitcase out of the car and had wheeled it around so it was next to me. Thanking him, I took hold of the handle and began to make my way across the car park.

Most people looked surprised at my mother, which isn't too unusual. I'm the sort of girl who dyes her hair black, rarely wears any other colours apart from black, white and red and scribbles depressing song lyrics over my school books, so my mother turning up in the floral-print dress, stiletto heels and ridiculous oversize hat tends to surprise people. Even more so when she opens her mouth and out comes the stereotypical posh British accent.

"Mum, stop dithering," I threw over my shoulder.

"I am not dithering," my mother objected. "It's just that –"

I reached Mr Shayne, one of the teachers supervising the trip. I unzipped my rucksack and pulled out my passport. "Here," I said. He took it from me with a nod, and then said to Miss Markham, another teacher, "You can tick off Shelley Fisher."

"Looking forward to the trip, Shelley?" Mr Shayne asked.

"Not really," I replied honestly.

"Oh," he said, sounding a bit surprised. "Oh. Well. Right. You can put your suitcase on the coach then...We're waiting a bit longer, some people haven't showed up yet."

"'Kay," I said just as my mother decided to strike up a conversation with Mr Shayne about safety on the school trip. I walked away, letting the sounds of Mr Shayne's assurances about safety ("No, Mrs Fisher, I can assure you the Channel Tunnel will not crack causing everyone in the train to drown") fade into the background.

My father remained behind in an attempt to shepherd my mother away from the teachers, so I dragged my suitcase off the school grounds to the coach, which was waiting in the street. A few parents and the odd Year 8 child were huddled around the coach wrestling their luggage onboard.

I stood behind them, patiently waiting.

"Shelley," a sneery voice said from behind me. "Nice suitcase."

I glanced over my shoulder briefly. Mari Kneath – a tall, broad girl with reddish brown hair and a pointy face – was stood behind me, wearing an unfortunate skirt and a T-shirt with a kitten printed on it.

My eyes then looked down at my suitcase. It was a plain black suitcase. Admittedly, I'd drawn and written all over it in Tippex, which might have made it less desirable.

"Yeah," one of Mari's cronies joined in – I think her name was Amanda, but I wouldn't know. I don't really care. "It's absolutely amazing. Seriously, you must tell me where you got it, I need one just like it..." They all tittered, and some Year 8s stood nearby joined in. The group of Year 10 boys looked somewhat amused, too.

Apart from Nathan Bishop. He didn't look so amused. But he's a long story.

I held up one finger, indicating I wanted them to wait a moment. Then I slowly turned my suitcase around, revealing the pièce de résistance I'd spent ages perfecting on the back of my case:

FUCK OFF & DIE.

Maybe not the most intelligent of insults, but I figure you have to be blunt for idiots like Kneath. I know her mould like the back of my hand, seeing as my old school back in England was full of girls like her. Only they were slightly less intelligent. You see, while my father was now a well-respected businessman who had loads of money he'd grown up in Manchester in one of the worse areas of the city. He'd really fought for his business and for his money, and he didn't want his daughters attending "poncy posh schools" so he'd sent us to the local comprehensive that was only a few streets away from our house.

Even though it was right next door to some of the most expensive houses in the area we lived in, the school was actually one of the roughest in our area. While Mari Kneath and her mates are definitely bitches and not the sort of people I like to interact with, I admit that they look like fucking angels when you compare them to some of th girls at my old school.

Anyway; their expressions became shocked and angry at the message written on the suitcase (although I hadn't even written it with them in mind, honestly). The Year 10 boys burst out laughing.

"What a horrible thing to write!" Amanda declared, setting her hands on her hips. "I ought to report you to the teacher!"

"If you like," I nodded, agreeing. "Might get me out of this trip."

Now that the crowd around the coach had cleared, I wheeled my suitcase and prepared to lift it so I could put it in the luggage compartment. That was when a pair of hands reached out and covered my own on the handle.

"Do you want help with that?" Nathan Bishop asked, smiling warmly at me.

I looked up at him. Nathan Bishop was the only person I really talked to at this new school, but that was only because he pestered me so much and never seemed to leave me alone. He's a basketball player, like most of his friends, and he has dark brown hair and grey eyes. I know for a fact (because I listen in to conversations) that Nathan's a much-lusted after boy when it comes to girls in this school, and I can kind of see why. His hair is very shiny, very clean looking, like he takes a lot of care with it. I admire that in boys. He does have a slightly larger than average nose, but that can't be helped.

And he's not a bad person, either. He usually goes out of his way to help me, but I've no idea why.

It's like now, with him trying to help me put my suitcase on the coach. He's always doing stuff like that for me. Carrying things and so on. He's very polite like that.

But still, we're not really friends.

I let him pick up my suitcase anyway though because he's stronger than me due to all that basketball, and he has muscles which were visible beneath the almost too-tight band T-shirt he was wearing at that moment. As he turned around, I eyed the logo that was splashed across the front of it showing that he was a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan.

"Thanks," I muttered.

"No problem," he said, his grin growing wider. "Anything I can do to –"

"What a nice boy!" my mother said, nearly deafening me in the process. "Helping Roshelle with her bags! Did you see that Richard?" She stood frighteningly close to poor Nathan and myself, looking as if she could just burst with joy at the scene she had just witnessed. Behind her, Nathan's friends sniggered.

My father, looking weary, nodded. "Yes, dear," he said, nodding too. "I saw."

"Well, Mrs Fisher, I was just helping out a friend," Nathan said bashfully, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. "It was no problem."

My mother just stood there, beaming like an idiot, and opened her mouth to respond.

"Don't encourage her," I said to him severely, taking hold of her arm. "Carry on like that and she'll kidnap you and keep you in the cupboard under the stairs."

"Don't be ridiculous, Roshelle," my mother said, her face going slightly pink, as I dragged her away from anybody I knew and back into the main car park.

"Do you have to be embarrassing, Mum?" I demanded, putting my hands on my hips. "And stop calling me Roshelle!"

My mother rolled her eyes. "Roshelle, what is so wrong with my behaviour? How am I embarrassing you?"

Then it was my turn to roll my eyes. "I'm not even honouring that with a reply," I told her in what I hoped was a withering tone. My mother opened her mouth to reply, but my father – who had been following us – held up a hand for silence.

"I don't want anymore disagreements this morning," he said. "Can you two just get along for five minutes? The coach is leaving soon, you don't want to be going off to France on bad terms with your mother, Shelley."

I grudgingly hugged my mother, something that must have surprised her because I never hug her.

Then I hugged my father, which wasn't so unusual, as I got along with him quite well most of the time.

"Now, text us when you get to France," my mother said, beginning to pick imaginary bits of fluff from my hair and shoulders. "And text Adélie, too, she asked me to pass that message on."

"Why, is she planning on popping down to see me?" I asked sarcastically. Adélie is my older sister, who currently lives in France for "personal reasons" that have never been fully revealed to me. I have my own suspicions.

"Don't be silly," my mother responded automatically, missing the sarcasm. I rolled my eyes. "She's just interested in your life, Roshelle."

Inwardly, I scoffed. I'd hardly spoken to her in almost a year. My mother had probably fabricated the idea of Adélie wanting me to text her just to keep me happy. Although hopefully...

"Can everybody start getting on the coach now!" Mr Shayne and the other teachers began yelling. "Come on, people, we're on a tight schedule here, we don't want any hanging around!"

I hitched my rucksack up my shoulder and looked at my parents. "Um, well, I'll see you in a few days," I said, starting to walk towards the coach.

"Don't forget to text us!" my mother called, holding onto my father's arms as they watched me leave. "Be careful, Roshelle!"

"See you soon, Shell," my father said as I looked over my shoulder, and I saw him gently squeeze my mother.

And then I turned back, joining the very end of the messy queue of pupils getting ready to board the coach that would be taking us to France.

I sighed, and folded my arms over my chest. This was going to be a long, long four days in France.

By the time I managed to get on the coach, most of the seats had been filled. I looked towards the back of the coach, and noted that was where every single Year 10 student had flocked and were currently arranging themselves. Nathan caught my eye and beckoned me to join them, but I pretended not to notice.

Then came the crowd of Year 8s, who were all being very noisy and dramatic. Next was the small cluster of Year 9 students, and the teachers were sat right at the front. There was one spare seat, right behind Mr Shayne and Miss Markham. Shrugging, I dropped my rucksack onto the floor behind their seats and sat down on the window seat, kicking off my slip on Vans and tucking my feet underneath myself, trying to get comfortable.

"Hey!"

The voice that spoke was far too cheery for my liking, and it appeared to belong to the scrawny little boy that had flung himself into the empty seat next to me. At least, that was my first thought when I looked at him, but on closer inspection I realised he must be in Year 8. He was very pale and wore a dark red cap on top of his head, and he was beaming at me like Christmas had come early.

"I'm Dafydd Bulkeley," he introduced himself, sticking out a very thin hand towards me. His fingers made me think of twigs. "I know you, you're the English girl!"

I took his hand briefly, thinking it would be a quick shake but he had a very strong grip for such a small person.

"Yep, that's me," I confirmed, rolling my eyes and looking out of the window.

"Oh wow," he said. He had a very, very strong Welsh accent. "I love England."

I eyed him out of the corner of my eyes. "Why?" I demanded. "What's to like?"

"Are you from London?" he asked, ignoring my question as Mrs Stradling began to deliver a speech about our trip. No one listened to her, or stopped talking, so I followed their lead.

"Definitely not," I responded. "I'm from Manchester. I'm Northern."

"Manchester," Dafydd said, sounding awed. At the front of the coach, Mrs Stradling threw her hands in the air and sat back down, apparently having given up on her speech. The coach began to move, and most people went frantic trying to wave at their parents out of the window. Dafydd was actually more enthusiastic than anyone, practically flattening me as he leaped across me in an attempt to be closer to the window so his mother could see him.

"Looks like Gollum's a mummy's boy," a snide voice drawled from behind us. Still stretched across my knee, Dafydd began to blush and scrambled back into his seat. I sighed, and looked upwards. A slightly chubby boy with curly hair was leaning over the top of the seat, accompanied by a slightly thinner boy. All I knew about them was that they were in Year 9, and didn't scare me in the slightest.

"Fuck off," I said, reaching up and smacking the hands that gripped the headrest so that they sat back down. Then I leaned backwards and closed my eyes.

There were a few moments of silence, and then Dafydd said, voice now cheerful once more, "What's Manchester like?"

I cracked open one eye. "All right," I said. "City centre's great. Some dodgy areas, though. But there are cool shops actually in Manchester."

"Have you ever been to Old Trafford? Do you support United or City?" Dafydd then demanded. I opened my other eye and shrugged.

"No and neither," I answered. "I've driven past Old Trafford a few times, though. Anything else you want to know?"

His eyes narrowed as he looked thoughtful. "Well –"

"Look, Manchester's no different to any other place in England, not really," I said, stretching my legs. "It just happens to be the best city in the whole world." In my opinion, I thought silently, but it's not like he'd argue. He'd probably never been out of Llynmawr.

"I've never been to England," he told me just as that thought flew through my mind. "I've never actually left Wales. My mam's ill a lot, you see, so we don't really travel..." He looked uncomfortable and a bit sad. I felt sorry for him. "This'll be my first time abroad," he added quietly.

I looked at the roof of the coach. "You must be excited, then," I said eventually.

"I am!" he said, perking right up. "Really excited!"

Dafydd didn't shut up from then on. He told me about everything – his mother's ill health (he didn't go into too much detail, except it to say there was something wrong with her kidneys), his older brothers and younger sister, his favourite books, and how he wanted to be an archaeologist when he was older. He was a very nice person, I suppose, but he talked far too much. I had to resort to pretending to listen.

I was quite bored of this by the time the coach stopped at the first service station, so I was grateful for the chance to stop. I think that nearly everybody else on the coach were kind of glad to stop too, but I heard some of the Year 9s complaining that we had stopped too soon.

Walking over to the service station, though, I found myself being followed by Dafydd, who was now on to telling me all about this film he saw near Christmas which was totally amazing, apparently. Sighing inwardly, I resigned myself to the fact I would probably have Dafydd as a constant companion throughout this holiday.

"And then, there was this scene, where the monsters ran at the good guys and –" Dafydd said as we walked into the lobby.

"Dafydd, I'm just heading off to the toilet," I interrupted.

"Oh. Okay." He nodded, and then said perkily, "Do you want me to save us a table?" As he spoke, he pointed over to the canteen part of the station, which was where the rest of our party had headed.

"Sure," I agreed, before walking straight down the toilets corridor.

Inside the ladies', I did my business and then looked at myself in the mirrors. The way I'd been sitting on the coach had caused my hair to tangle and stick up, so I spent a few minutes messing about with my hair so it looked vaguely normal. During this time, quite a few Year 8s and two Year 9 girls came in, all giggling and being generally noisy.

On returning to the canteen area, I saw that Dafydd was sat with boys his own age who seemed to be talking to him, while he looked uncomfortable. There were no empty seats at the table. I shrugged, and started to make my way to an empty table that was quite far away from everybody else. Might as well try and get some peace and quiet while I could.

"Hey, Shelley," Nathan called as I walked past the table he was sat at with his friends. I paused, looking at him questioningly. "D'you want to sit with us?" he gestured at the empty chair at his table. The friends he was with – Liam Wace, Billie Winters, and Eric Fellows – all watched me as I considered his question.

"I'm all right, thanks," I eventually (but not surprisingly, judging by the looks on his friends faces) answered. "I'll just sit...over there."

"On your own?" Billie demanded. "Why?"

"Why not?" I countered. "I've no issue with being on my own."

Aside from Nathan (and Dafydd, I suppose), Billie's the only person at our school I kind of get on with. When I arrived at the beginning of this year, in September, he latched onto me saying it was refreshing to have "another Englishman" at school with him. Even though it later turned out he'd been living in Wales since Year 5, and was more or less Welsh, he still seemed overjoyed at the prospect of having someone in his year who was from England.

He liked to ignore the fact I was a northerner, though.

Anyway, I walked away from them and continued on my way to the table I had chosen to sit at. As I walked near to his table, Dafydd suddenly shot out of his seat and rejoined me.

"Can I still sit with you? Please don't make me sit with them, they made me sit with them and I don't want to sit with them –" he babbled. I rubbed my eyes.

I was not going to get my moment of peace and quiet, clearly.

"Sure," I agreed, dropping down into the chair at the table. "Go ahead."

"Thank you," he said breathlessly, sitting opposite me. "I saw you talking to Nathan Bishop. What did he want? Are you two friends?"

"Not really," I responded, resting my chin in my hand and looking over at Nathan. To my surprise, he was watching me. When he saw me returning his look he smiled and looked away. I very nearly thought that there was a slight red tinge to the skin of his cheeks.

"Oh, it'd be cool if you were," Dafydd said excitedly. "Nathan's so cool. So are his friends."

I snorted. "They're quite annoying, actually."

He gaped at me. "How?"

"I mean, they're not bad, I guess," I said, thoughtfully. "They're just...not my kind of people. Too loud, too in your face."

"Nathan's not," Dafydd pointed out. "He seems really quiet."

I looked over again. Sure enough, his three companions were all obviously talking, particularly Billie and Liam who seemed to be acting something out together. Nathan, on the other hand, was sat there just smiling at them.

I shrugged. "I guess."

The conversation then moved back to that film Dafydd had seen, and I fell back into pretending I was listening.

When we got back on the coach, I got a book out of my bag and began to read. Dafydd seemed to take the hint and got out an old MP3 player and began to listen to it. I was grateful for the reprieve.

It was another few hours before we stopped at the next service station. By this time I was pretty engrossed in my book and I didn't want to get off the coach; I was bluntly told by Mrs Stradling that remaining in my seat was not an option and I should take this opportunity to stretch my legs and use the toilet.

Grumbling, I put my book away, zipped up my hoodie and got off the coach. My legs felt like jelly because of how I'd been sitting.

Dafydd had got off the coach before me, so I couldn't see him straight away when I got into the actual station. Like the last one, there was a large canteen area with tables and chairs. This time however nearly everyone had chosen to wander around the shops and the lobby instead of sitting down. I decided to buy myself some mints from WH Smiths to pass the time, and I spent some time browsing the books to see if there was anything I could read.

This was where Dafydd found me a few minutes later, reading the back of an angsty vampire paperback. He had a bottle of Powerade in his hand and, to my surprise, he'd taken off the cap.

"Hello," he said brightly. "Are you buying that book?"

"No," I replied, slotting it back onto the shelf. "Just looking."

"Right."

I reached up on my tiptoes and took another book off the shelf. I was just flicking through it when I heard Dafydd calling my name. "Hey, Shelley, this is the film!"

I looked over at him and put the book back on the top shelf, before heading over. He was holding a DVD case out at me, so I took it off him.

"How sweet," I heard Mari's sneering voice say behind me. "You taken on another freak as a mascot then, Shelley?"

I looked up from the DVD case, glancing over my shoulder. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Dafydd was blushing and fidgeting.

"Oh, piss off, Mari," I said. "And don't drag Dafydd into it." I handed the DVD back to Dafydd. "Sounds good," I told him. "But I left my main purse on the coach, I've only got some change. I'll buy it when we come back though."

He grinned at me and we began to leave the shop. Mari followed.

"I was just saying that I think it's nice of you to keep Dafydd around. After all, you weirdos should stick together," she said. Some of her friends tittered.

"How the hell are you top of your class?" I demanded, not looking at her. "You can't even come up with any new insults." I sat down on the bench near the door.

"Well, I –" she began to bluster, before Nathan's tired voice cut her off.

"Mari, leave it," he advised. "No one really cares."

"At last," I muttered, viciously tearing at the foil and paper around my mints. I popped one into my mouth. Mari and her friends slowly melted away, returning to their haven of WH Smiths. Nathan didn't go.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

I pulled a face at him. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Mari?" he suggested. "She can be pretty..."

"Pathetic," I supplied. "Don't worry, Nathan, I've dealt with worse than her."

He didn't look convinced. "Okay," he said slowly. "I actually came over to ask if you want to sit with me on the coach. You know...at the back."

I brushed some hair out of my eyes. "Thanks, but I'm happy where I am," I said, looking at Dafydd out of the corner of my eyes. He was looking at his feet.

Nathan's eyes flickered towards Dafydd as well, briefly, before he nodded and took a step backwards. "Sure," he said. "Okay. I just thought I'd ask."

"Yeah," I said, watching as he turned and walked back over to his friends.

"Why didn't you say yes?" Dafydd demanded, turning towards me.

"I told you before," I said, shrugging one shoulder. "We're not really friends."

"But you wouldn't have to sit with me," he said, frowning. "I don't have to sit with you if it's going to cause some trouble with that girl."

I snorted. "Dafydd, she hates me," I explained. "You're just today's ammunition. Tomorrow, she'll be getting on at me about something else, like my shoes, or my knowledge of Dieppe or something. It's always something. Don't feel bad. And I don't mind sitting with you; I'd rather sit with you than them."

He didn't answer.

On the coach, we resumed our previous activities – me reading, him listening to his MP3 player.

The next time that the coach stopped was when we reached the the Eurotunnel terminal. I went off to the toilet, and then headed back outside. It had turned out to be quite a sunny day, so rather than sit on the coach (which, unlike last time, we were allowed to do), I got my book out and joined Dafydd who was sat at a picnic table near the children's play area. He was watching the Year 10 lads, one Year 9 boy, and some Year 8s as they clambered all over the jungle gym.

I was just getting back into my book when a shadow fell over my page. I looked up, half expecting to see Mari stood there, but to my surprise it was actually two of the Year 9 girls.

One of them was small, slender and very pretty, with large eyes, wearing an unusual patchwork dress over pale pink leggings; the other was taller and much larger in a curvy kind of way, with layered ash blonde hair. She wore denim shorts and a green Dropkick Murphys T-shirt. She had a lot of freckles. Both wore sunglasses.

"Uh, hello?" I said, squinting at them due to the sun shining in my eyes.

"Hi," the small one said in a cheerful voice. "I'm Suzanne. I was wondering if you'd take our picture?" she thrust a camera at me.

I accepted the camera, putting my book down. "Okay," I said slowly, stepping over the bench I was sat on. Dafydd ignored me leaving.

"I'm Nerys," the Dropkick Murphys girl said, her voice not so bright. "We'd get our other friends to do it but they're a bit busy." She pointed to two other Year 9 girls who had joined the boys on the jungle gym.

"Whatever," I said.

"You're Roshelle, aren't you?" Suzanne asked as they climbed on top of their picnic table. "The English girl?"

"Yes," I said, watching them as they linked arms and grinned at the camera. I took the picture, surprising even myself when the flash went off.

"Ouch," Suzanne said, rubbing her eyes. "That flash is bright, Nerys."

"I thought I'd switched it off," Nerys said, sounding puzzled. She jumped off the table, but was pulled back by Suzanne.

"Nevermind, it's not so bad," she said. Nerys reluctantly climbed back onto the table to join her friend.

"Yeah, but your faces are completely whited out," I said, looking at the picture. "You can just about see your eyes."

Nerys let out a puff of air and climbed back down off the table. This time, Suzanne joined her.

Nerys took the camera off me and fiddled about with it for a few minutes. "I hate this camera," she said darkly. "It's my dad's. I borrowed it because it was better than mine but I don't – God, I should have just taken Pascal's!"

"Don't worry," her friend said soothingly. "Maybe if Roshelle –"

"Shelley," I interrupted. "Call me Shelley."

Suzanne nodded. "Right. If Shelley goes and stands over there" – here, she pointed at the jungle gym – "and then zooms in on us, the flash won't be so bright."

"It'll be a crappy picture though," I said. "Even crappier than the one I just took. You'll be all grainy and blurry." I took the camera back. "Do neither of you have any idea of how to turn off the flash?"

"I tried," Nerys said, putting her hands on her hips, "But it doesn't do the right thing. I've pressed all the buttons but nothing happens!"

"All right, calm down." I flipped the camera over, examing all of it for a button that might answer all our problems. "You said you switched off the flash before," I said to Nerys. "How did you do it?"

"I pressed that button," she said, leaning over and pointing at one of the buttons on the back. "But when I press it now, the text on the screen starts saying stuff about timers and stuff."

"Right..." I was, personally, at a loss. Aside from computers and iPods, I was useless with other gadgety things. Especially cameras.

"Having some trouble?" Nathan had got off the jungle gym and had wandered over. "You all look like you're thinking pretty hard."

Suzanne giggled. "No, just those two," she said, turning around and nimbly hopping back up onto the table.

"We can't switch off the flash on the camera," I told him. "The buttons aren't working, apparently."

He gently removed the camera from my grip. Our fingers touched at this point, and I felt my face grow slightly warm, so I dropped my hand from the camera immediately. Nathan seemed to have noticed my discomfort as the tiniest smug smile appeared on his face.

He examined the camera closely, pressing some buttons. The camera beeped in response. A few seconds later, he raised the camera and pointed it in my direction, taking a photograph of me before I could object. The flash didn't go off.

"There," he said, handing the camera to me. "The flash is off. Be careful, though, because it only takes pressing one button and the flash will come back on again."

"Thanks," I said. Nerys smiled at him before returning to sit next to Suzanne. I took their picture again. This one had a much better result – at least they could be seen clearly.

After I'd given the camera back to them, I turned around to find Nathan still stood there.

"D'you want something?" I asked as I began to walk back over to Dafydd.

"I wanted to ask you if you want to sit with me again," he said, as I sat down next to Dafydd. Dafydd was still watching everyone play on the jungle gym, but at my return with Nathan, his face turned towards us.

"It's just – I feel like we're leaving you out," Nathan said, rubbing the back of his neck. "And...I don't like that."

I looked sideways at Dafydd, who was looking at Nathan like he was some kind of God. I remembered Dafydd's earlier words about how cool Nathan was, and made my decision.

"Okay," I agreed. "I'll sit at the back of the coach – but Dafydd's sitting with me, okay?"

Dafydd looked at me in surprise.

"Okay," Nathan said, grinning. "That's great. There's two spare seats anyway."

Not long after, we got back on the coach to board the train. Just as we'd agreed, Dafydd and I sat in the two empty seats at the back of the coach. The girls didn't seem too pleased at me being there, but I ignored them.

They didn't have to sit with me for too long, though; once we'd actually got on the train the teacher's told us we were allowed to leave the coach if we wanted. This cued a mass exit from the coach from nearly everyone. Only Dafydd, Nathan, Billie, Nerys, Suzanne, myself and a Year 9 boy chose to remain on the coach, along with Mr Shayne to watch over us.

Despite the discomfort from my ears popping, I quite liked travelling on the train. It was weird, and very dark, but I think there are worse ways to travel. Clearly, Suzanne didn't feel the same way. She looked very nervous, and was playing with her hair and fiddling with the hem on her dress. The Year 9 boy – who I assumed was her boyfriend – was rolling his eyes at her actions, whilst Nerys didn't look too thrilled either at being on the train.

I put my book back in my rucksack. Dafydd had fallen asleep, so there wasn't anyone to talk to, so I switched my attention to Nathan and Billie. Unfortunately Billie appeared to have picked up on Suzanne's nervousness and made his way up the coach to sit on the seat behind hers. Rolling his eyes, Nathan followed, while Nerys watched them both with a hostile look on her face.

"You okay, Suzanne?" Billie asked as her boyfriend stood and stepped over her legs, exiting the train. He muttered darkly under his breath as he went, so I guessed that Suzanne's mood had irritated him.

"No," Suzanne said, pulling on her hair.

"What's up?" Billie cocked his head to one side.

"I – I hate the tunnel," Suzanne said, smiling embarrassedly. "It just doesn't feel safe to me."

"Right. Well, there's nothing to worry about," Nathan said with a comforting smile. "This thing is perfectly safe, people use it all the time."

"Yeah, but how unlucky would we be to be those people who are here when the tunnel collapses?" Billie grinned wickedly. "Because, you never know..."

"Billie," Nathan said warningly.

Billie ignored him. "Imagine the scenario: we're here, on the train, trundling along thinking we're going to arrive in France when boom! Tunnel collapses, and what happens next?"

Suzanne paled visibly. Nerys didn't look too better either.

"Oh, shut up, Billie," I called from the back of the coach. "This thing isn't going to collapse. Stop scaring them."

He twisted in his seat and smirked at me. "And how do you know, Shell?"

"Billie," Nathan said sharply. "Give it up."

"Yeah," Nerys said, uncomfortably. "Can't we talk about something else like...France?"

Their conversation moved on. Satisfied that Billie was no longer upsetting the two younger girls, I tuned out of their chatting and put my iPod headphones in; I spent the rest of the train journey listening to music.

We finally arrived in France, with much excitement from everybody else on the coach. Dafydd in particular seemed excited, but maybe that was just because I was sat next to him and had to deal with his loud exclamations of joy and how he bounced up and down on the seat.

The rest of the journey to the centre we were saying in isn't really worth talking about: we didn't stop, at all, and no one talked to me apart from Dafydd. It was just a very long few hours, driving through French countryside. The only bit of excitement was when the coach driver took a wrong turn, but that quickly turned to disappointment when everybody realised we'd have to spend an extra twenty minutes or so on the coach.

But we made it. The coach parked in front of the entrance to the education centre, and then we had to haul our luggage down the stony, rough road that led to the centre. After a long day of sitting on a coach and not being able to stretch my legs adequately, pulling a fairly heavy suitcase behind me felt like hell, but at least I kept quiet about it. Most of the other girls there were quite vocal about their discomfort.

We were met by a woman, who stood in the doorway to the classroom of the centre. She was a short, plump woman with curly red hair and dark eyes. She introduced herself as being Juliette Rousseau, and said she was the owner of the education centre.

We were then herded into the classroom, and were instructed to sit down at a table to listen to a welcome speech. There were many groans when we were told it would entirely be in French.

Juliette smiled at the groans and said in French, "It's the only way you'll learn. I'm sure you all know enough French to understand what I'm saying."

"What did she say?" Dafydd hissed to me. "Do you know? It sounded like gibberish to me."

"She basically said you should all know enough French to understand her," I translated in a low voice out of the corner of my mouth. We were sat at a round table next to the one the other Year 10s were sat on.

"I don't," he replied.

"Welcome to to France, and welcome to this centre..."

The main gist of her speech, I informed Dafydd, was that the boys slept in one dormitory, the girls in another, dinner was at six, breakfast at eight, we were allowed anywhere in the house except for her study, we weren't allowed on "the island" (whatever that was) without an adult's accompaniment, and we weren't allowed to take shoes upstairs. She also told us that at the end of our stay she would personally inspect the dormitories to make sure that they were clean.

That done, she left our teachers to organise us by sending us up to our dormitories. The boys were sent upstairs first. Dafydd dragged his suitcase upstairs, trailing behind everybody else and shooting me a pleading look over his shoulder.

Mr Shayne and the other male teacher on the trip, Mr Thomas, accompanied the boys upstairs. The two female teachers, Mrs Stradling and Miss Markham, remained downstairs with us. Both of them became engaged in conversation with the Year 8 girls. Bored, I put my head on my arms and blocked out all the sound of everybody else.

"So, are you excited, Shelley?" I raised my head to glance at Miss Markham. She was quite young and pretty, and I'd always liked her. She'd been very friendly towards me when I moved here, and always seemed concerned that I'd never made friends with anybody.

"Not really," I answered her honestly.

"Why did you bother coming, then?" Mari demanded, glaring in my direction. "Isn't this just a waste of money?"

"It's not like her parents are strapped for cash, Mari," one of her friends – Vanessa, I think her name was – said, rolling her eyes. "They can probably afford to pay for this trip ten times over and not even blink."

Ignoring them, I said to Miss Markham, "My mother thought it'd be a good education for me." Not entirely truthful, but there you go.

The real truth was that Adélie lived in Dieppe. It was a long shot, but it might be nice to see my sister, and this seemed to be the nearest I'd get. Apart from the occasional phone call my mother made to France, we never heard from Adélie anymore.

"Ah, I see," Miss Markham said, nodding wisely. "So you can get a firsthand experience of being in France, speaking French with locals...?"

"No, a good education in dealing with people my own age," I said, ruffling my hair. Mr Shayne poked his head around the classroom door.

"D'you want to send the girls up?" he said. "We're running out of time here, ladies."

"Oh, shoo, Marcus," Miss Markham said, as she and Mrs Stradling stood. "Right, girls, lets go upstairs. When you've sorted out your sleeping arrangements you can unpack and maybe get changed for dinner."

There was a small stampede (hindered somewhat by the fact everybody had to drag suitcases behind them) to get upstairs.

"Remember, girls!" Mrs Stradling shouted as she was pushed out of the way by some Year 8s, "We're going on a trip to the castle later, so dress practically if you're going to get changed!"

I waited until everybody else had gone before taking my own suitcase and going into the hallway. Just as I reached the lobby where the main doors to the house were, Billie, Nathan, Liam and Eric were coming down, wearing the same clothes they had before.

"Hey, Shelley," Nathan said, grinning at me. "You not got upstairs yet?"

"Nope," I replied. "You unpacked yet?"

"It can wait," Billie said, throwing an arm around Liam's shoulder. "Want to join us outside? We're going to play volleyball."

I shook my head. Sports didn't agree with me. "I'll pass," I said, navigating around them with my suitcase. "I'd better get upstairs before there are no beds left."

"Do you want some help to get your bag upstairs?" Nathan offered as his friends went out the front door and into the garden area. I was already two steps up and was puzzling on how to get my bag up after me. He leaned against the wall, watching me with some amusement in his eyes.

"No," I said. I'd already taken some help from him that day. I could deal with a suitcase on my own – it was only a flight of stairs.

So I told him this. He didn't look convinced. "You know, you're only small," he told me. "It wouldn't be fair to let you struggle with a suitcase that's the same size as you."

I narrowed my eyes at him and opened my mouth to retort, but before I knew it he'd already grabbed my suitcase and was hauling it up the stairs with what looked like very little effort. I planted my hands on my hips and watched him go, trying not to let my eyes stray to his quite attractive derrière.

"You didn't need to do that," I told him, starting to follow him up. He was now stood on the landing, that grin still plastered all over his face. He was being watched by Year 8s and a Year 9 girl who I suspected (going off looks) was Mari's cousin.

"Don't be difficult," he told me, reaching out and ruffling my hair. I jerked away from him, pulling his hand harshly off the handle of my suitcase.

"I'm not being difficult," I said moodily before taking my suitcase into the girls' dormitory.

Walking inside I was hit instantly by a stench of about a million different perfumes. It was funny, to me, how quickly these girls could fill the room with their odour. I wondered if they'd all thought they smelt bad after the long journey, but then I walked past Mari's cousin and realised that the scent seemed to be radiating from her.

Must be her that smelt bad, then.

As I'd suspected, there was only one bunkbed free. The dormitory seemed to have been split into three groups – the Year 8s mostly occupied the first half of the room, whilst the four Year 9 girls had taken two bunkbeds in their own little section. The final half of the room, next to the toilet and the teacher's room, was where the Year 10s had decided to sleep. The final bed was in with the Year 9s, which wasn't so bad. Worse would have been with the Year 10s; nearly as bad would have been with the eternally noisy and shrieking Year 8s.

I heaved my suitcase over to the bed, weaving in and out of the Year 8s who were flitting backwards and forwards between each other's beds like they'd never see each other again.

The Year 9 girls were stood talking seriously when I put the suitcase on the bed. Nerys had her hands on her hips and was glaring at Mari's cousin, who was scowling right back. Suzanne looked a bit awkward, whilst the other girl – a pretty, darkhaired girl with bright green eyes – looked slightly amused. They all stopped talking when I put the suitcase on the bed and instead turned to look at me.

"What are you doing?" Mari's cousin barked.

I glared at her. "There are no beds left," I told her, "So it looks like I have to sleep here."

"That's fine," Suzanne said chirpily. "Gwen, you'll just have to share a bunk with Cassie. You've not really got any other options, unless you want to share a bunk with Shelley...?"

"She's not sharing with me," I interrupted. "I'm only sleeping in this bed out of necessity."

Gwen's scowl only increased, but she stepped backwards towards one of the other bunkbeds and sat down on the bottom bunk, folding her arms over her chest. "Fine," she said.

I rolled my eyes. "Are you Mari Kneath's cousin?" I asked. She scowled at me.

"Yes, what about it?" she growled.

"Just curious. You remind me of her, that's all," I said, smiling at her. She looked momentarily confused and then resumed talking to her own friends.

I knelt on the ground and pulled my suitcase down so it was lying flat on the floor; then, I unzipped it and began to unpack my clothes into the drawers beneath the bunkbeds. Seeing as I wasn't sharing my bed, I had two drawers which saved me from the desperate cramming of clothes that everybody else in the room had to do.

I'd just put my last item of clothing away when Miss Markham came into the dormitory and told us all that dinner would be served soon, so we should start making our way to the dining room. Upon hearing that I shoved my drawers closed and stood, wincing as cramps began to set in along the backs of my legs from kneeling for so long.

The pain had more or less eased up by the time I stepped into the dining room. I found only boys occupying the tables in there which didn't surprise me as I'd been the first girl to leave. The Year 11 boys were all sat on the largest table, and for some reason, Dafydd was sat right next to Nathan and they were in deep conversation.

"Shelley!" It was Billie that yelled, far too enthusiastically in my opinion, and began waving his hand around.

"Calm down, Billie," said Mr Shayne, shaking his head from his place on the teacher's table. "It's just Shelley."

"That's not very nice, sir," Billie said, frowning. "You make it sound like I shouldn't want to see Shelley."

"What I meant, Billie, was that if Angelina Jolie had just walked in I'd fully understand your enthusiasm, but you've just spent nearly ten hours on a coach with Shelley, so there's no need to yell," Mr Shayne said, eyes twinkling.

Ignoring him, Billie said to me, "Come and sit with us, Shelley."

I walked over, weaving around the other tables and sitting next to Billie. "Why?" I asked as I sat.

"Because if you didn't you'd sit alone and that'd really annoy me," he said, "And besides, it's either sit with us or Year 8s and 9s. I know which I'd prefer – well. The Year 9s isn't so bad because there's that blonde girl with the freckles and the boobs –"

"You're such a dick," I interrupted.

"What? I didn't say anything," he said, trying to pout.

"I heard enough," I said. "And please, do go and sit with them. God knows you'd be doing the rest of this table a favour."

His friends all laughed, and he joined in.

Eventually, the rest of the girls arrived, and dinner began to be served. The first course was supposed to be fish soup, but it tasted like salted water. The taste made me feel sick so I didn't eat anymore. Unfortunately, things didn't get any better; the next course was another fish dish, but it was no more appetising. The dessert of cold pears with a tasteless chocolate sauce was just about edible.

Afterwards we were told that we'd be taking a walk up to the town's castle nearby, so we had to go and prepare and put on "sensible shoes" as part of the walk would be uphill. Naturally, there was a rush from all the girls, whilst the boys hung around. I followed most of the girls upstairs, and dug out a black cardigan from my drawers; I slipped my mobile phone into my cardigan pocket. Then I ventured out into the garden.

The Year 10 boys were outside already, playing volleyball. It was actually a fairly nice garden; very large, with one or two trees for shade, and some picnic tables to sit at. There were lots of flowers as well. A volleyball net was strung up across the garden.

"Shelley," Nathan said as I sat at one of the picnic tables. He jogged over, abandoning the game much to the dismay of his friends.

"Hi," I said, drawing my legs up so that both my feet rested on the bench. He sat next to my feet, thigh touching my toes.

"Looking forward to the walk?" he asked, grinning. My dislike for exercise in general was well known throughout our year. For me, a 'walk' was torture.

So ignored his question. "How's the game?" I asked, nodding to the volleyball net where his friends stood looking over, frowning.

"It was all right," he said.

"Who was winning?"

"We weren't really keeping track," he admitted, "We were just kind of hitting the ball."

"Where's Dafydd?" I asked, looking back at the house. "Is he still in the dorm?"

"I think so." It was at that moment that quite a few of the younger pupils piled out of the house, chattering loudly and spoiling the peace and quiet of the garden. A lot of the younger boys immediately ran over to the volleyball net, whilst the girls sprawled out on the grass, attempting to sunbathe in the last few rays of sunlight.

Eventually, the other Year 10 girls came out as well, followed closely by Dafydd. Now we just had to wait for the teachers so we could get this ridiculous walk over with.

Dafydd and Nathan began to talk to each other, so to pass the time I got my phone out of my pocket and began to write a text message.

Ad – hi, its shell im in france now mum told me 2 text u and let u know. xxx

Mr Shayne and the other teachers came out of the house. Quickly, I scrolled through my list of contacts, found my sister's mobile number, chose it, and pressed 'Send'.

"Right, guys," Mr Shayne boomed, "Come on. Gather round, we've got some things to say before we go up to the castle."

Everybody edged towards him. I didn't move, preferring to stay sat at the picnic table.

"Right, we're going to walk up to the castle soon," Mr Shayne told us, "Which will mean us having to walk through the town. Seeing as we're visitors to France you've all got to be quiet and polite. No running or yelling or screaming or going into people's gardens. Also, no littering or throwing things."

"Aww, sir," Billie mock-pouted, "That was the first thing I was going to do. Throw a brick through somebody's window."

"Billie," Mrs Stradling said warningly. "We're being serious; don't set a bad example to the younger students."

He opened his mouth to reply, but then Mr Shayne held up a hand for silence and continued. "The castle isn't that far away from here, and it's quite easy to get to. But we don't want anybody wandering off. You've all got to stick together, okay? You've got to follow the teachers on this one, and if something bad does happen, you need to find the nearest teacher, okay?"

"Okay," everybody chorused, eager to leave.

The town we had to walk through to get to the castle was picturesque, with lots of pretty, colourful houses and beautiful gardens. There were also lots of little side streets that we had to walk down. The most unusual thing was that there were very little people about; in fact, we only saw one man, who rushed inside his house as soon as he saw us. I've no idea if he went inside because of us.

If I was him, I would have gone inside if I'd seen us.

We had been walking for about five minutes when my mobile phone began ringing. At that time I was walking with Dafydd and Miss Markham, who were both talking about learning languages. I was half tuned in and half tuned out of their conversation, so the sound of my ringtone startled me.

I answered it quickly when I saw my sister's name glowing on the screen. "Hello?" I said.

"Shell? Is that you?" my sister's familiar voice crackled down the phone.

"Yes," I said. "Hello."

"Hi." There was a pause, and then she said, "Why are you in France?"

"I'm on a school trip," I responded, crossing a road a few steps behind Dafydd and Miss Markham. "Mum told me to text you when I got to France. She'd said you'd asked her to."

There was a heavy pause, and then Adélie said, "I didn't even know you were going to be in France."

"I thought you'd spoken to Mum?" I said curiously.

She laughed, bitterly. "Don't be stupid. I've not spoken to Mum in over a year. She's probably only told you to text me to check up on me."

I bristled. "Well, why wouldn't she want to talk to you? She's your mother, she's probably worried that you've not spoken to her."

"Worried? She has no right to be worried, she was the one that told me not to speak to her ever again."

I gripped the phone tighter. "Why would she do that?"

"Shell..." Adélie let out a long breath. "Don't you know? I thought you knew. I thought.."

"Know what?"

"Mum – Mum disowned me. You know that, right?" There was silence, and then she said, "That's what 'personal reasons' means, Shell."

"Why did she disown you? I..." I gripped the phone tighter, narrowing my eyes. We walked into a wooded area, having caught up with the rest of our party who all looked pretty bored. Once we'd arrived, they set off up a steep, leafy hill. I followed at a slower pace and placed my phone against my other ear.

"Shell, it's too much to explain on the phone," Adélie said. "And I'm sorry I've not spoken to you in so long. It's been hard. I've not had time..."

"But Adélie –" I stumbled over a tree root, and a hand reached out to catch me. I looked up to see Nathan looking down at me, looking concerned.

"Are you okay?" he mouthed.

I nodded, and said to Adélie, "Can I see you?"

"I don't know if we should," she hedged. "Whereabouts in France are you?"

"Dieppe, more or less."

She sighed. "I'm not so far away but...Shell, it's just awkward, okay? It'll be hard for me to see you and I'm sure your teachers won't approve..."

"They don't have to know," I told her.

"Shell, be sensible about this," she scolded lightly. "Look – I'll phone you tomorrow, okay? Or text you. Either way I'll be in touch. I – I get that we need to talk, Shell, I just thought that Mum – or Dad – would have said something..."

"Adélie, as far as I'm aware, you just upped and left for France without really saying goodbye." I pressed my fingertips into my eyes. "You just told me it was 'personal reasons', remember?"

"Yes, and I wasn't lying..." There was a muffled noise in the background, something that I couldn't quite decipher. "Look, Shell, I'm sorry – but I've got to go now."

"Right."

"I'll contact you tomorrow, I promise," she said earnestly. I heard the sounds of her moving about.

"Bye," I said flatly.

"Bye. I love you."

I pressed the hang up button and put my phone back into my pocket. Nathan was still walking along beside me, watching me out of the corner of his eyes as I ran my hands through my hair.

"What's up?" he finally asked.

"I – I don't even know," I finally admitted. "I just had this weird conversation with my estranged sister who told me my mother had disowned her."

"I didn't know you had a sister," he frowned.

"She moved to France about a month before I moved to Llynmawr," I explained. "I've not seen her since. That's why it's so weird."

I wrapped my arms around myself. "I've no idea what's going on," I said quietly.

I saw his arm reach out as if he was going to wrap it around my shoulders, but instead his hand just squeezed my upper arm. "It'll be okay," he assured me. "Maybe you just need to talk to her."

"She said she'd phone tomorrow," I told him.

"There you go." He gave me a smile. "Then you can sort it out. There's no point in worrying about it now, though. It might not be as bad as it sounds." He didn't look convinced of that though and I wasn't reassured. So I began to walk faster, climbing the hill so I could join Dafydd and Miss Markham who were ahead of us.

"Hi, Shelley," Dafydd said breathlessly, puffing on an inhaler as I drew level with them. Silently, Nathan joined us.

"Are you okay?" I asked Dafydd.

Miss Markham clucked. "He's having trouble with his asthma," she explained, "But being the stubborn lad he is he won't stop and take a breather." She glanced at me. "What was taking you so long, anyway?"

"I was on the phone," I said shortly.

"I noticed," she said. "Who to?"

"Just family," I shrugged. "My mum. She was just asking about the trip and everything."

"Okay," Miss Markham smiled, and then her gaze turned concerned as she focused back on Dafydd.

"Dafydd, mate, maybe you'd best stop for a bit," Nathan said, speaking for all of us. Dafydd shook his head.

"No point," he said, "We're nearly there anyway."

He wasn't wrong; the path was very close to levelling off at the top of the hill.

When we did reach the top, Dafydd was sat straight down on one of the boulders at the top of the hill and was fussed over by Miss Markham, whilst Mr Shayne spoke to all of us.

It turned out that the castle actually closed at 6pm, so we were too late to actually go around the castle ruins. The walk had been a waste of time and Mr Shayne was suggesting that we took a break and then went straight back to the house.

I sat next to Dafydd on his boulder. He seemed much more relaxed now and his breathing was more or less normal. "You okay?" I asked.

He nodded.

"Hey, sir," I then heard Billie yell quite loudly. Looking over at him, he was looking quite excited. "Can we go for a walk around the moat? It seems a bit silly to get here and then leave straight away."

Mr Shayne turned around and assessed the castle ruins. "Okay," he finally agreed. "We'll walk around it once, but I don't want any silly behaviour and seeing someone go falling down the moat."

The moat was empty and therefore was just a very, very steep hill that would be a nasty fall should anyone have slipped.

Dafydd moved off the rock to join everybody else on the walk. He looked at me questioningly. "Are you coming, Shelley?" he asked.

I shook my head. "You're all right," I said to him. "You go on." I guess I just wanted time to mull over Adélie; or maybe, I just didn't want to walk anymore than I had to.

It was probably the latter.

Anyway, he looked at me all pleading. "Please?" He glanced over his shoulder at the other Year 8 boys. "I don't want to go on my own, Shelley."

Sighing heavily, I shoved off the boulder and joined the rest of them. "You owe me," I told Dafydd, prodding him lightly in the shoulder as he followed me, smiling. "When we go into Dieppe tomorrow, you're buying me something."

"Like what?" he said.

"Like a croissant. Or something. I don't know."

It was quite weird walking around the moat, because it was so high up. It probably wouldn't have been so bad if there was water in the moat.

Dafydd and I (typically) were walking behind everybody else, so it was instantly noticeable when the Year 8 boys suddenly decided to slow down so we could catch up with them.

"What do you think we are?" I said as we reached them. "Thick?"

They all looked at me like I'd gone mad.

"We just wanted to speak to Dafydd," one of them said in an innocent voice. "We feel bad, for leaving him out."

I glanced at Dafydd, who looked nervous. I rolled my eyes. "Sure you do," I said. "C'mon, Dafydd, let's see if we can catch up with Nathan and Billie."

I put my hand on his arm and began to walk around the boys. Unfortunately, I decided to do this on the narrowest side of the path on which we were walking; and as Dafydd was behind me slightly, I didn't notice when one of the boys shoved at Dafydd, sending him stumbling down the hill.

And seeing as I was holding onto him, I stumbled too. Luckily I managed to get a proper foothold in the grass and, keeping a tight hold onto Dafydd, I prevented both of us from going straight down to the bottom of the moat.

I guess it must have looked pretty funny, the two of us stood completely still on the edge of this moat, but actually being there wasn't funny in the slightest. My heart was pounding and I coult tell that Dafydd wasn't happy at all.

Very slowly, I began to back up, pulling Dafydd with me. To my surprise the Year 8 boys actually gave us space so we weren't right on the edge again. As soon as I was sure Dafydd wasn't going to have a panic attack, I rounded on the boys, putting my hands on my hips.

"What the fuck were you thinking?" I shouted. "How fucking stupid can you get?"

"Oh, come on," one of the boys scoffed, "We were only having a laugh."

"Having a laugh?" I repeated incredulously. "Oh, how fucking hilarious. I can barely contain my laughter, you guys are so witty." I jabbed him in the chest and then pointed down the moat. "How would you like it if I pushed you down that moat, huh? You could have seriously hurt him!"

"And?" the boy said, glaring at me. "Why would I care?"

"Oh, you'd care," I hissed furiously, "You'd be in so much shit and then you'd probably be mad at Dafydd saying it was his fault because you're such a fucking –"

"What's going on?" Nathan cut into my rant. I whirled on him, breathing heavily.

"These dicks pushed Dafydd down the moat," I announced. "And I nearly fell with him."

Nathan's eyes narrowed. "That's pretty stupid," he said in quite a calm voice. "And dangerous."

"Oh, come on," the same boy blustered, "It was just a joke, okay? You're going way over the top."

Nathan glared witheringly at him. "Somehow, I don't think Mr Shayne is going to find this 'joke' particularly funny," he said, nudging Dafydd so he would start walking. He then reached out and took hold of my hand, gently tugging me so I was walking with him.

Nathan set off, striding; he was looking straight forwards, nostrils flared. I could tell he was angry, and so was I, but at that particular moment I was far too focused on how tightly his hand was holding mine.

"Um, Nathan," I said quietly, "I can walk, you know."

He looked down at me, and then down at our joined hands. "Am I hurting you?" he asked, his grip slackening.

"No," I said patiently, "But you don't have to hold my hand."

He gave me a slightly crooked smile. "I know," he said, not letting go.

When we caught up with Mr Shayne and the Year 10 lads, Nathan filled them all in on what the Year 8s had done. When the walk around the moat was over, Mr Shayne and the other teachers had a right go at them, before we had to walk back to the centre.

Nathan didn't let go of my hand until we were back at the centre, when he went off upstairs with his friends.

I sat in the garden with Dafydd and Suzanne and Nerys, listening to the two girls easily chatter about cheese sandwiches. Suzanne turned to look at me suddenly, and said, "Are you and Nathan going out?"

"No," I answered.

"Then why was he holding your hand?" Nerys jumped in.

I shrugged. I didn't know why. "He wouldn't let go?" I said, and it somehow sounded like a question.

"I think he likes you," Suzanne said with a smile.

"I think he does too," Dafydd chimed in. I glared at them all.

"He only held my hand," I said. I nodded at Suzanne and Nerys. "You two held each other's hands on the walk to the castle, I saw, but you're not going out together."

"That's different," Nerys stated, "We're friends."

"Well," I countered, "So are Nathan and I."

"Hmm," Suzanne said contemplatively, cocking her head to one side, "I think he wants to be more than friends, if you get what I mean."

I rolled my eyes. "Whatever," I said.

The rest of the evening went pretty normally, until the fire alarm went off. It was pretty annoying, as I was just about to get into bed and everything, and then I had to go out and stand in the cold. To make matters worse, Miss Markham and Mrs Stradling wouldn't even let half of us stop to put shoes on, so I had to go out barefooted.

None of the girls were particularly happy about having to leave. They wouldn't stop grumbling once we were outside at the fire assembly point, in the front yard. I tuned out of their complaints and wrapped my arms around myself, trying to get warm. I regretted my choice of pyjamas, as they were just shorts and a vest top. Most other girls had opted for full pyjama sets or quite long, T-shirt-like nightgowns.

The boys came out later than the girls and that was when Mr Shayne informed us that Mr Thomas had been in the shower (that excited a few younger girls seeing as Mr Thomas was a PE teacher and looked like an underwear model. Apparently – I never saw the connection myself), and he'd used deodorant which had caused the fire alarm to go off.

When Mr Thomas eventually came out, he looked somewhat shame-faced.

"Can we go inside yet, sir?" Mari asked, hopping from foot to foot.

"Sorry," Mr Shayne said, "We've got to wait for Juliette to confirm there's no fire."

"But we know there's no fire," Billie said, looking confused.

Mr Shayne held up both his hands. "I don't make the rules," he said. "I know it's cold but we can't let you go back inside just yet."

Many groans met that statement. I huffed quietly and rubbed my arms.

Nathan walked over. He wore a plain green T-shirt and blue patterned boxer shorts, and didn't look that bothered by how cool it was. That said, neither did Billie and he wasn't wearing a top at all.

"Are you cold?" Nathan asked, eyeing what I was wearing.

I rolled my arms. "You think?" I responded.

He grinned. "Sorry. Stating the obvious, wasn't I."

"Just a little bit." I looked up at him. "Why're you over here?"

"Billie was annoying me," he shrugged. "Going on about that blonde girl's nightie. You know, the girl in Year 9."

I looked towards the Year 9 girls, and my eyes zeroed in on Nerys. She wore quite a skimpy nightgown that kind of resembled a negligee. Seeing as she was a slightly bigger girl it made her look quite curvy and, to Billie at least, very attractive.

"I'm guessing he's commenting on her tits again," I said dryly, looking back at Nathan.

"Of course," he said.

"Right. That's nice."

There was a brief moment of silence and then he suddenly plucked at his T-shirt. "Do you want this?" he asked.

I raised my eyebrow at him.

"You said you were cold," he explained.

"Not that cold," I said, shaking my head. "Besides, if you gave me that then you'd be cold."

"I'd be less distracted."

I opened my mouth to reply, but then I shut it again. I really couldn't answer to that.

"Shelley –" he began, his face very serious. Then Mr Shayne's booming voice interrupted.

"Right, guys, you can go back inside now," he said, flapping his arms. "Go straight upstairs and get into bed, it'll be lights off in five minutes people!"

"We'd better go back inside," I said awkwardly, beginning to walk carefully over the gravelly ground.

"Yeah," he said, reluctantly beginning to follow.

We left each other at the top of the stairs to go back into our dormitories, the weird little scene playing over and over in my head.

So, he found my pyjamas distracting (possibly, if that was how I interpreted his choise of words). And he seemed like he wanted to tell me something. On top of that, he'd insisted on holding my hand earlier and he kept on appearing at random little moments.

A tiny, tiny part of my brain began to wonder of what Dafydd, Suzanne and Nery had said earlier could be true. I pondered this as I climbed into bed and rolled over, trying to drown out the noise of everybody else's excited chatter.

I was thinking about how nice it actually felt to hold Nathan's hand when I finally fell asleep.

A/N: Well, it's finally done lol. Later than I'd expected, but there you go. Sorry it took so long, real life got in the way I guess...I'm not really too pleased with this but it's the best I could do. Hope you enjoyed it!