The shrill call of a whistle caused everyone in the schoolyard to fall silent and still before they made their way toward the front doors of the building. Mrs Johnson watched as the children on the playground filed in front of her, noticing the distinct look of apprehension that adorned each new face every year.
Some were trying to display looks of indifference, marred only by occasional glances to each side as they sought out the faces of people they already seemed to be familiar with, and others looked close to tears and fearfully clutched their schoolbags to their sides.
She looked down at the chart in her hands and silently counted the twelve names on her list. All new to the school and all gifted students.
"Will the following students please come and stand before me." Mrs Johnson called after the crowd fell silent once more.
"Michaela Abraham, Kirsten Adams, Matthew Bright, Jordan Crenshaw, Sydney Davenport, Benjamin Grimshaw, Robert Harper, Patrick Matthews, Adrina Patel, Anthony Robinson, Rebecca Russell and Samantha Travers."
The named children reluctantly made their way to the front of the crowd and pointedly avoided eye contact with each other. As Mrs Johnson led the way into their nearby classroom the small group of students remained silent and shuffled along slowly in single file.
Within a few minutes they were stood outside of their classroom and she turned to address them with a warm smile. "Ok kids, when we go in there is going to be two names on each desk and I would like you to find your name and sit behind it."
They all nodded quickly and made their way into the classroom slowly as Mrs Johnson stood near the door and watched them. She smiled to herself when she noticed one of the girls swap her name with the one next to hers so that she could sit next to the window.
It only took a moment for all of the children to be seated appropriately and she made her way to her desk at the front of the room before addressing the children in front of her.
"Hello, my name is Mrs Johnson and I am going to be your form tutor for your entire time at the Marlin Academy. Now, as I'm sure you'll all know, the Marlin Academy is a nationally respected public school and we will uphold its tradition of excellence. The reason we are all here is because you all achieved the highest scores on the admissions test and therefore are now members of the "gifted and talented" scheme that we run here.
I know that you're all feeling nervous, so we're going to get to know each other a little better today and lessons will begin tomorrow. Does anyone already know each other?" When none of the children raised their hands she continued, "That's good now I would like to ask you all to turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself. Ask each other questions and get to know each other better."
The class remained silent for a long moment before a single voice started talking.
"Hi, my name's Sydney, what's yours?" Mrs Johnson smiled widely when she realised it was the same young lady who had switched her name card, I'll have to keep an eye on her.
The young boy in the chair next to her turned to face her with a smile and offered his hand for her to shake. "I'm Ben." he replied quickly, though Mrs Johnson could not hear him clearly because the other children in the room had started talking also.
"How do you feel about being in the special class?" Ben asked Sydney quietly.
"Special class? I thought we were here because we're smart." She said with a small frown.
"We are but my cousin goes here too and he says the people in this class get picked on more than anyone else."
"Only if you let them, don't worry about it, you look tough enough to handle yourself."
Ben laughed quietly and Sydney noticed the way it made his green eyes shine.
"So do you have any brothers or sisters?" Ben asked.
"I have two younger brothers, Daniel and Harry. I have an older brother too but I don't live with him, he's called Travis. How about you?"
"A younger brother, Jacob and two younger sisters, Hannah and Audrey. I like your hair." He said suddenly and then he blushed furiously, turning in his seat and facing away from Sydney.
"Thanks. My dad did. He's not really used to messing with my hair yet since my mom always used to take care of it." She said quietly, running her fingers through her side fringe before checking her ponytail briefly.
"My dad made me put wax in my hair today to try and stop it from looking like a lump of turf." Ben said and he smiled when he heard her laugh softly from next to him.
"It looks good."
"So what do you like to outside of school?" Ben asked.
"I play soccer and do Tai Kwan Do, how about you?"
"I play football and the piano…."
"I'd love to be able to play an instrument but we can't af…uh, I wanted to do sports more and there's not enough time for everything." Sydney said with a deep blush.
"It's my birthday next week and we're having a party at my house, did you want to come?" Ben asked quietly.
"Yes, I'd really like that."
"So Sydney, how was school today?"
Dale asked his unusually quiet step-daughter as he watched her through the mirror in the car.
"It was ok I guess, I met a bunch of new people and they all seem really nice."
"And how about your teacher?"
"She's alright, bit old though and she wouldn't let us sit next to who we wanted to."
"Well, that's what secondary school is like; you have to do what the teacher says even if you don't like it." Dale watched as Sydney frowned, causing her blue eyes to crinkle at the edges.
The car was silent for a moment as Dale pulled the car into the parking lot of Wrigley Elementary School.
"Dad, am I in a special class?"
He sighed heavily and turned in his seat to face Sydney.
"You are in a class for very gifted people. You're very smart Syd and so you have to go to your own class for other intelligent children."
"But why can't any of my friends be there?"
"That's the way the school works sweetheart, the gifted students work with other gifted students, so that they can learn faster and not be held up by other people who can't understand things the way you do. And you'll still be able to see your friends at lunch and break times, and anyway, before you know it you'll have made a bunch of new friends too."
Sydney smiled brightly. "I did make a new friend today! He's called Ben and he wants me to go to his birthday party next week."
"That sounds great…oh, here come your brothers."
"Benjamin you're being quiet son. What's the matter? Don't you like your new school?"
Ben turned to look at his father and shrugged his shoulders slowly. "It's ok, I like my new class and the teacher seems nice."
"Good. Did you make any new friends?"
"Yeah I did." Ben replied quickly with a big smile, placing his fork on the dinner table gently before continuing with his story. "Her name is Sydney and she's really nice and clever and funny too."
"What's her last name?" His father, Thomas, asked with a glance at his wife.
"Davenport, and she's the smartest in the class, she told me she got into the school on a scholarship because she did so well in the admissions test even though she didn't study for it like I had to. Oh! And I've invited her to my birthday party next week; I'll ask everyone else tomorrow."
Alicia sighed quietly before addressing her son. "Benjamin, do you remember when we told you that there may be people at the academy who shouldn't be there?"
Ben nodded slowly, anticipating where this conversation was headed.
"Well, it sounds like your new friend might be one of those people."
"But she's the smartest in the class, even Mrs Johnson said so."
"Yes but if she got a scholarship, her family probably can't afford to send her there, which means she shouldn't go to such a prestigious school."
"But her family aren't poor, I asked where she lives and she said she lives in Willow Square and that's just round the corner."
"And Willow Square is a nice neighbourhood," Alicia began, "but that doesn't mean that her family aren't poor. You should make friends with that boy your father was speaking about, Tom, what did you say his name was?"
"Robert Harper, I served with his father in the military for several years."
Ben frowned and looked down at his dinner plate. "Mom, I'm not very hungry, please may I be excused?"
"Yes, of course, I'll have Natalia clear your plate."
As Ben left the dining room he heard his mother calling for the maid to come and throw his uneaten food away.
"Alright guys." Dale called loudly as he walked into the living room." What's it to be tonight?"
The room fell silent and three sets of eyes landed on their father immediately.
"Sorry Dan looks like you've been outvoted, pizza it is." Dale made his way back into the kitchen to fetch the phone and the menu from their favourite take-out. When he re-entered the living room his children had resumed watching their TV show and talking amongst themselves.
"Same as usual?" he asked to no-one in particular and when he heard three grunts that he took to be a positive response he called for their pizzas.
"How long is dinner going to be, daddy?" Harry asked, his brown eyes wide and slightly bloodshot.
"Not too much longer, buddy. You ready for bed?" Harry nodded slowly and crawled into his dad's lap before wrapping his arms around Dale's waist, causing Sydney and Daniel to roll their eyes in his direction.
"How's your new school, Syd?" Daniel asked when the TV switched to adverts.
"It's good, I made a bunch of new friends and the boy I sit next to is really nice."
His eyes widened and a toothy grin spread across his face. "Sydney's got a boyfriend! Sydney's got a boyfriend!"
"Shut up! Dad make him stop it."
"That's enough Dan and Sydney, we don't use horrible words in this house, say sorry to your brother and Daniel apologise to your sister.
"Sorry." She muttered with a frown.
"Sorry." He replied with disdain.
Dale smiled softly as he watched them settle back on the sofa to watch their programme quietly. When dinner arrived Daniel and Sydney set the table before Dale carried through the plates and pizza cartons.
"Dad, what do boys want for their birthdays?"
Dale turned away from the fridge and poured Sydney a glass of orange juice to accompany her toast before answering her question.
"Well what does Ben like?"
"Erm…he likes reading and cars, and he's going to be twelve."
Dale tried to conceal a smile. It was the morning of Ben's birthday party and all Sydney had been talking about for days had been what she could wear or what she could get him and while it had been getting on his nerves he could not deny that he found it all to be rather cute.
His daughter had a crush.
And the thought both amused and terrified him. The realisation that Sydney was noticing boys was one he was not prepared for. He had thought he could have at least a couple more years of her still being his little girl.
"Oh! I know, the other day we were talking about books and he mentioned one that he hadn't read. I could get him that one, is that a good idea?"
"I think it's a great idea Syd, have you decided what you want to wear yet?"
"I think I'm going to wear my blue jeans and my nice pink shirt."
"And I think that you will look beautiful." He said softly before leaning down and pressing a kiss to the top of her head.
"You're embarrassing me dad."
"No-one's even here."
"That doesn't matter. I still know you did it."
He shook his head softly with a small chuckle, "Alright, I'll never do it again. When you're finished up here clean off your plate and I'll take you to Tai Kwan Do."
Sydney immediately leapt to her feet and made her way over to the sink, she rinsed her plate off before running to grab her jacket.
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time."
"What was that sweetheart?"
"That book for Ben, that's what it's called: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time."
Dale glanced over at Sydney as he pulled onto the street that had been on the party invitation. She was looking out of her window at the large houses and her eyes were wide.
"Dad these houses are huge!"
"Yes thank you Harry, I can see that for myself."
"Is this where your boyfriend lives Syd?"
"Stop it Daniel!"
"Daniel, leave your sister alone, please, for once." He stopped the car in front of a large white house that was adorned with balloons and banners all indicating that they were in the right place.
"Ok, Syd did you want me to walk you to the door?"
"No thanks dad, I'll be fine."
"I know, so I'll pick you up at six ok?"
"Great, thanks for the lift." Sydney said as she climbed from the car, adding a hasty goodbye before making her way up the steps to ring the doorbell. Dale watched as a large Hispanic woman opened the door and warmly greeted Sydney before waving to him and ushering her inside the house.
Sydney looked around the house in awe. It was huge! The hallway was long with two separate staircases leading upstairs and another going to the basement.
She turned towards the familiar voice and smiled widely when Ben came into view, followed closely by two stern looking people who Sydney assumed were his parents."
"Hi Ben, happy birthday!" she said happily as she handed him his present.
"Benjamin, aren't you going to introduce us to your friend." Alicia said with a sneer.
"Uh, yeah ok. Mom, dad this is Sydney, she's the girl who sits next to me in class. Syd, this is my mom and dad Thomas and Ali…"
"Mr and Mrs Grimshaw." Alicia said with a false smile. "So what did you get, son?" she added a moment later when she noticed the way Ben was holding his present, seemingly unwilling to open it.
Ben frowned at the package in his hand. He knew his parents would make some sort of rude comment about whatever Sydney had bought for him, regardless of what it was. He looked towards her slowly and took in the way her eyes were watching him closely.
He tugged the corner of the wrapped package and his face lit up at the sight of the book in front of him.
"Oh my gosh, thanks Sydney! Mom this is the book I was telling you about!"
Thomas and Alicia looked at each other for a moment, apparently both quite shocked that the child in front of them had bought Ben something he actually wanted, instead of the usual menial gifts he received from other school friends.
"That's lovely, son. Don't you think you should take Sydney outside to play with everyone now?" Thomas said with a genuine smile.
"Yeah ok. Come on Syd we've got a pool and a bouncy castle and everything!"
Ben grabbed Sydney's hand and pulled her through the house and to the back garden with enthusiasm. Once they had stepped out into the large open space Ben stopped moving and turned back towards Sydney with a slight blush.
"Thank you for coming today Sydney." He said so quietly Sydney almost did not hear him.
"I wouldn't have missed it, thanks for inviting me."
He smiled slowly and pulled Sydney towards him gently. Before she could comprehend what was happening Ben had pressed his lips to her cheek and then stepped away again.
They looked at each other for a long moment and seemed to move closer together when the sound of their names being called from the pool distracted them. Both Ben and Sydney were sporting deep blushes when they stripped into their swimming outfits and made their way to the pool.
Thomas and Alicia watched their son from the patio doors and both sported a deep frown.
"He likes her." Alicia said, seemingly more to herself than to her husband.
"She seems like a nice enough girl, she's much prettier than I thought she would be."
"Yes but her family…"
"May not be as privileged as we are but they don't want for anything."
"Alicia, they are children and he has a crush on her. Nothing will ever come of it so we may as well let it play out and soon enough Benjamin will realise that he is over her."
"But he's such a sensitive boy."
"He can handle himself, he's not as sensitive as you like to think."