Prologue

'This sucks,' Ellie whispered to the person beside her. Her focus settled back to her test when the teacher, Miss Bloom, aimed her trademark glower tpwards Ellie's direction. Strike one.

The person beside her, Krista, turned her head once the coast was clear. 'It's unfortunate that I spent four hours last night watching House reruns instead of revising.'

Ellie dryly scoffed. 'Why don't you put that to use then? This is a bio test.'

'You think I was actually paying attention to some medical jargon when there was a hot blonde doctor on-screen?' Krista squinted her eyes in thought, 'What was his name again...?'

'Chase?'

'Yeah, yeah, him whatever; and also,' she paused for dramatic effect, staring straight into her friend's eyes with a quirky smirk, 'Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Mint chocolate chip knows how to numb my test jitters better than anything.'

Miss Bloom lifted her head from her desk and turned towards her direction, the two struggling students immediately shifted their gazes back to the test. Strike two.

'Quick,' Ellie prodded, 'what's the difference between eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells?'

Krista shot her an incredulous look. 'Are you seriously asking me that?' she said just above a whisper, then lowered her voice again when her teacher twitched her gaze slightly. 'The only cell I know is a cellphone!'

'Well who the hell else am I supposed to ask?' Ellie jolted her head to her other side. 'Stacy over here is clearly more interested in her boobs than passing her GCSEs!'

'Alright, that's it you two!' Miss Bloom suddenly shot out of her chair and pointed her index finger to the door. Strike three and you're out.

xXx

'Thanks a lot, Krista,' Ellie groaned as she sat outside her biology classroom in the quiet corridor beside her friend. Another student walked by, whistling aimlessly as he pushed one of the school's TV trollies in front of him. Krista waited until he had disappeared around the corner to speak.

'Me? How the hell was it my fault?'

'If you hadn't ditched me yesterday for Hugh Laurie I would've been studying with you. You know how I procrastinate when I'm on my own.' Her voice held equal parts of condescension and annoyance.

Krista pushed her straightened, red-dyed hair behind her shoulders with one sway. 'We both know how those "study sessions" would've ended anyway.' Ellie shot her a look. 'Wait, that didn't come out right. I meant-'

'I know what you meant. I just can't help it, that smarmy git grates on my nerves!'

Krista rolled her eyes with the experience of someone who had been through it before and mumbled, 'Here we go...'

'Always cheating off of me in maths and history...' Ellie went on, unaware of her friend's weariness of the topic. 'I work really hard to get good marks and all he has to do is slack off the whole year and then use my answers.' Then she absentmindedly added, 'Some of my answers, at least he's not stupid enough to get us caught.'

'Why don't you just tell your teachers?' Krista finally asked.

Ellie sighed. 'I can't.'

'Why not?'

'You know Stephan?'

'The little snitch?'

'Exactly.'

Krista shook her head disapprovingly. 'Honestly, you care too much about what people think,' she said, waving her hand in a careless manner.

Ellie light-heartedly elbowed her friend. 'I don't really, okay? I just wanna get through this final year unscathed.'

'You should ask your teachers to sit you somewhere else.'

'Don't you think I've tried? Chatterbox gets to be seated next to the last person she would ever chatter with.'

Krista chuckled, finally grasping the situation.

xXx

Graduation had finally presented itself in front of the class of '09. Parents sat in various positions in folding chairs - some fanning their faces with the commencement booklets; others surreptitiously wiping their eyes and a few stifling yawns. The teenager's names were called one by one, each having some achievement or message of congratulations said to them as they made their way on stage.

'Ricky Pardell.'

Ellie scoffed indignantly to Krista beside her, 'I've earned that certificate more than he has. I should have two plastered on my bedroom wall.'

'Would you stop now? This is the last day you're going to see him or any of those bitches that has ever bad-mouthed us.' Ellie didn't say anything as they watched Ricky shaking hands with the head and then sending rock hand signs to his applauding audience before doing some kind of elaborate kick-and-jump combination that had members of the audience cheer loudly.

'Apparently,' Krista continued, 'Ricky's father is sending him to study abroad all the way to New York.'

Ellie gasped. 'Seriously? No fair, that's my dream place.'

'Tell me about it,' Krista moaned with agreement. She and Ellie both harboured the fantasy that when they were successful, independent, business women, they'd become roommates in NYC, living their fantasies as the typical New Yorkers in all those movies they had seen. 'Rich kids and their bloody opportunities.'

'E-LEA-NOR PAR-KER.' Ellie jolted at the loud mention of her name, realising with embarrassment she had been missing her head teacher's calls during her venting/complaining.

Y'know what? Ellie wondered to herself, stepping up the rickety stairs of the stage. Krista's right. This was the last she'll ever see of those sods. She suddenly stumbled between her feet and nearly fell seconds before reaching her certificate. Thankfully she jerked upwards, straightening her hair and jumper and ignoring the snickers from the audience. Ellie shook her teacher's hand, overlooking the entertained grin on his face, and searched for her parents taking pictures and older brother lifting his hands with encouraging thumbs up.

Moments later a cluster of students lingered in the hallway, many of their younger siblings chasing each other across the marble floor. Most of the young adults relocated each other and gossiped about others, pulled off uncomfortable shoes and reminisced about the past few years while the parents fused together into a collective group.

Ellie made her way through the bustling crowds to find a table of her friends. Seconds before reaching a table of GSCE graduates waving in her direction and motioning her to come forward, she bumped arms with someone else beside her. The person whipped around and Ellie's stomach lurched when she recognised Ricky. She was about to open her mouth and be civil - maybe say something vaguely congratulatory about heading off to New York, but his eyes landed on her for only a moment before he was pulled by his shoulder back into the fray of students.

Ellie shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly as the idiom 'good riddance' replayed through her head. Grinning broadly, she approached her enthusiastic group of friends, taking a seat beside Adam Jones.

'Hey,' Adam trilled, looping an arm around Ellie. He tilted his head and looked at her searchingly. 'On to the next step, huh?' he asked, eyes darting over to where Ellie's parents were standing with his. 'No pressure...'

Ellie followed his gaze and groaned, putting her head over her hands. 'Not this again.'

'I just know it,' Adam said with the typical unbridled energy he seemed to hold an infinite supply of. 'They're talking about us right now - yes, Mr Jones,' he mimicked Ellie's father, 'I completely agree, Adam should go away after college. Why, kick him out of the house altogether like we're doing with our Ellie!'

Ellie cuffed him on the back of the head. 'They're not going to kick me out. I've still got two years before making a grand step forward in my life, okay? And it doesn't involve my parents.'

Adam looked knowingly at her. 'Right, because if it did stay, they'd be all...'

'Why are you doing this with your life - why don't you become a doctor, like your brother?' They both said in unison and then dissolved into laughter.

Adam looked up as a figure approached them. "Speak of the devil," he mumbled slyly.

'Chris, there you are,' Ellie greeted her brother, attempting to conceal her giggling. 'Where've you been?'

'Around,' he shrugged, taking a seat on a stool at the long diner table across from his sister.

Adam rested his elbows on the table, placing his fists on his cheeks and smiling. 'Hey Chrissie,' he winked.

Chris grimaced, partly amused and partly uncomfortable. 'Always a pleasure, Adam.'

'Isn't it?' Adam teased.

Chris blinked his attention back to his sister. 'Mum and Dad are asking for you.'

Ellie sighed and not-so-enthusiastically added, 'Brilliant,' before lifting from her stool and heading grudgingly towards her parents.

Ellie surveyed the students and parents milling about among themselves. She couldn't believe that she would be starting A-levels soon. It felt like only yesterday that her mother led her to the new secondary school and had found herself fitting with a small group of friends. She shuffled through the previous memories she shared with this school, not excluding the ones involving the prats she had dealt with. Glancing at her certificate, she slowly smiled. The next chapter of my life is awaiting my arrival.

TBC


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