It was a calm and sunny Friday morning as Daniel Manera grabbed his lunch off the kitchen table and stuffed it into his bag along with his pencil case and his books for that day.
'See you later, Mum!' he called up the stairs. A relatively tall woman- about five foot eight- appeared at the top of the stairs in a dressing-gown with her mahogany-brown, wavy hair wrapped up in a towel.
'I'll see you later, honey,' she replied. 'If it's raining I'll collect you from school. There's meant to be some heavy storms in the area later so pick up your brother from his school and I'll meet you at the bus stop.'
'Sure, Mum, have a good day.' Daniel left his house and walked right to a house a few blocks down the street to meet his best friend Mike before they walked to school together.
Daniel Manera was a sixteen-year-old boy in his first year of sixth form; five foot six and still growing with dark hair and tanned skin he'd inherited from the Italian blood on his mother's side, people rarely believed he was related to his brother, who had inherited the black hair and paler skin of their English father, Alex, who coincidentally also had Italian ancestors but had lived all of his life in England. It had been due to this heritage, when eighteen-year-old Alex had been visiting an Italian grandfather, that he had met a girl named Serafina. The two kept in contact but never saw each other again until three years later, Serafina moved to England to go to university; the two had met but chance while Alex was visiting a friend at the same university, leading to Serafina becoming Alex's girlfriend, and later, his wife.
'Hi mate,' greeted Mike. 'Can I ask you a favour?'
Daniel tried to suppress a grin. He had an idea what this favour might be. 'Sure, go ahead.'
'Have you done the English homework? Only, I couldn't find the sheet with the questions on last night so I've still got a few left.'
'Sure, I'll give it to you at break,' smiled Daniel.
'What are you laughing about?' asked Mike.
'Oh, nothing,' said Daniel airily as he followed his friend through the school gates with 'Knole Academy' engraved into the stone archway above their heads. 'I'm just adding that to the number of homework sheets you've lost since term started.'
All right, all right.' Mike held his hands up in mock surrender as they moved through the crush of students to reach their lockers. 'I swear Maisie eats homework sheets for breakfast. I can never find them where I've left them and she always looks guilty whenever I see her afterwards.' Maisie was Mike's tortoiseshell-and-white cat he had adopted from the RSPCA after she had been found abandoned and starving as a kitten. 'And besides, we've got Maths first and you know Mr Johnson is gonna be on your case after last week.'
'I know,' sighed Daniel, remembering the tough equation the teacher had just posed to him when his phone had started ringing loudly, resulting in 'Lightning' by The Wanted being blasted through the classroom. 'George must've nicked my phone while I was packing my bag and figured out the code to unlock it and taken it off silent. I was hurrying so much because I was running late that I just didn't notice. Then of course Mum had to phone me despite knowing full well I was at school.'
'Yeah well, if you changed your code to something a little less obvious than your date of birth...' teased Mike.
'Trust me, I already have.' Daniel rolled his eyes and stepped into their Maths class room. 'Come on, let's get this over with.'
'What was that, Mr Manera?' asked Mr Johnson briskly. 'Homework please.'
'Nothing,' he murmured, digging the relevant paperwork out of his bag and handing it over. He made his way over to his seat on the furthest back table in the room while Mike gave over his homework and followed him, dumping his bag down next to the table and sinking into the chair next to Daniel.
'Great,' he moaned. 'Johnson's in a strict mood today so it'll be nothing but algebra and equations work from textbooks all lesson, just you wait.'
'It's almost half term, maybe he'll give out some Halloween-related problems like Miss Turley used to do,' said Daniel hopefully. Miss Turley had been head of Maths until she had retired last year and had always been a favourite among the students because she was known to set mini competitions on the run up to the holidays, often with chocolate prizes.
'Doubt it, this is Mr Johnson we're talking about,' said Mike, getting out his books and pencil case.
'True,' admitted Daniel as he followed suit.
Lunchtime couldn't arrive quickly enough as Daniel had to endure a long hour and forty-five minutes of English. Mike had managed to finish the questions on Shakespeare's Othello at break, but there were the usual characters who strolled in late or forgot their homework or just didn't bother to do it, and consequently Mrs Manson had been in a foul and unforgiving mood, making the class split into groups and act out different scenes in Act Two of the play and then analyse them to present to the class. She ruthlessly made them take notes on each others' performances to give feedback and to top it all off, gave them a practise essay on the ways Shakespeare set up his story and characters in the first act.
'Man, that was hard!' groaned Mike as they left the classroom, his spiky black hair having teased itself out of his gelled updo so that it flopped down over his forehead, causing him to keep brushing it aside every few minutes. 'She was in an awful mood; I got my work to her on time and everything.'
'At least it's over for today,' reminded Daniel. Both boys had frees after lunch, during which they usually went home to either of their houses. However, today Daniel looked out the canteen window and noticed that his mother had been right about the weather; a fierce wind was whistling outside and causing the windows to bang ominously and rain had begun to fall against the windows, albeit only a light shower.
Daniel and Mike sat down at a table close to the window and began eating their lunches. Mike's cousin, a boy named Isaac in year eleven, sat at their table briefly to introduce a friend to them, but apart from that they ate alone.
'Look at the popular kids, what do you reckon Jake's got detention with Miss Gordon for forgetting his copy of Small Island again?' joked Mike. Jake was the typical big, muscled football player who was known for his tough-guy attitude and his almost vicious playing on the field, but not necessarily his brains. He was infamous for picking on a number of kids, including Daniel and Mike, who had both fallen into the high school social group of not uncool, but the invisible kids who seemed to blend into the background and were largely ignored unless attention was drawn to them.
'Mmhmm, probably,' agreed Daniel. While Mike was picking out some of the jocks and cheerleaders to make fun of, Daniel zoned out as he recognised with a slight pang of regret, and not for the first time, one of the girls sitting at the table with the jocks. Her name was Ellie and he'd been at primary school with her; in fact, they'd been best of friends for the last three years of school together. However, since the first day of high school, Ellie had been shy and, having been placed in different classes from Daniel, had hung out with another girl she knew. The girl had just happened to be friends with the kids who became the popular crowd while Daniel had made friends with Mike, and since then nothing had changed. Daniel had to admit he sometimes missed his old best friend, but he'd never dream of telling anybody, especially not Mike. He knew he'd never hear the end of it, especially if word got out to the popular crowd, and he thought that Ellie would most definitely not be impressed if people found out. She seemed so comfortable and happy with her crowd of friends that Daniel thought she couldn't possibly remember their years as friends together. If anything, she would probably think of them as an embarrassment, he thought.
'Dan? Dan?' Mike clicked his fingers in front of the other boy's face.
Daniel blinked rapidly. 'Sorry mate, I must've zoned out there for a minute.'
'I'll say. I was gonna tell you, you might wanna give your mum a ring and get her to pick you up.' He indicated the window with his head. Daniel turned to see heavy rain assaulting the tall glass windows. The glass panes banged in their frames and the wind had got even worse; the whistling had been joined by ominous crashes from outside. Several kids had already rushed over to the windows and the whole canteen became consumed by noise as students tried to make themselves heard over the sounds of the weather.
'Everything's going crazy!' called a ginger-haired boy in the year below Daniel and Mike just as one of the school's metal recycling dustbins was hurled across the school grounds. Stray sheets of paper escaped the bin's lid and were whipped away by the fierce wind.
'Look!' called a girl, pointing upwards at the sky dramatically. The whole canteen suddenly went silent as the students rushed over and spotted the black storm clouds threatening the horizon.
'Jesus,' whispered Mike. 'Look at that. Looks like there's going to be one heck of a thunderstorm later.'
'You don't say,' muttered back Daniel. 'I'd better ring George and check he's okay, then I'll ring Mum about picking us up. If it gets much worse I'm not even sure I'll make it to George's school.'
Just then the school tannoy burst into life and the headteacher's voice began echoing through the tinny speakers.
'As I'm sure you'll have noticed a severe rainstorm has struck most of southern England including here in Sevenoaks. The weather channels have reported strong, high-speed winds travelling across the Channel from France and another weather front coming down from the north. The school will remain open but any students living half an hour away or more have permission to leave school now while the storm is still relatively mild. Any other students who feel they may have trouble getting home safely can come and see me in my office and the school will try to arrange transport home for those who need it. For the moment stay inside the building unless you are being picked up. Staff will be out in the car park to keep track of the students leaving, so please sign off with them before you leave.'
The tannoy buzzed and then went silent. Calm followed for a few seconds before havoc ensued as students began alternately cheering, fumbling for phones, chatting animatedly and ringing parents or relatives to organise lifts home. Daniel fished out his mobile and scrolled rapidly through his contacts list until he located his brother's number. He mentally thanked his parents for buying George a phone last Christmas and bit his lip as the phone rang in his ear. His brother was terrified of thunderstorms and he worried that it would start before they could get home from school.
'Daniel?' George's shaky voice sounded through the speaker in his ear, followed by a crackle. Evidently the weather was already beginning to interfere with the phone signal.
'George are you okay?' Daniel had to raise his voice above the chattering students and the banging windows to make himself heard.
'I'm okay, I think,' said George, but there was definitely a tremor in his voice.
'Good. Make sure you stay inside and I'm going to ring Mum so she can pick us up. Okay?'
'Okay,' nodded George. 'See you later.'
'Bye.' Daniel hung up the phone and turned to Mike. 'Your mum's working today isn't she?' When he nodded, Daniel continued: 'Do you want me to ask mine if you can come home in our car? There's no way you'll be able to walk home in this.'
Mike nodded. 'Sure mate, thanks.'
Daniel dialled his home number and pressed the green button before holding his phone to his ear. He covered his other ear with his hand to speak to her.
'Daniel?' His mum answered the phone immediately, concern in her voice. 'Do you want me to pick you up from school?'
'Don't rush out,' said Daniel hastily, visions of her driving fast to reach him, and the heavy rain that had to be coating the roads in a dangerous layer of water. 'Whenever you can reach us safely is fine.'
'Okay,' she replied. 'How's George? I haven't been able to get through to him on his phone,' she fretted.
'That's probably because I was talking to him. He's a little scared but he's fine,' reassured Daniel.
'Good,' said his mother, relieved.
'Also, is it okay if we drop Mike off on the way home? His mum's working till late this evening and he can't walk home in this.'
'Of course, tell him that's fine,' she said warmly. 'He can come round ours if he wants, so he's not at home in this on his own, and I'll get some hot chocolate ready for you all. How does that sound?'
'Thanks Mum.' He smiled and hung up and turned back to Mike. 'Mum said she's fine to pick you up too and that you can come home with us if you want.'
'Thanks mate,' smiled Mike. 'So what time will your mum be coming?'
'George finishes school at half three so she'll probably leave home at about three to get to us, so about ten past or quarter past three depending on how bad the weather is.' Daniel shrugged.
'Okay,' said Mike and returned to his lunch.
Daniel finished eating his sandwich and gazed out of the window at the ever-worsening rainstorm, wondering if his brother would be okay and hoping that his mother would make it safely to school and home again.