Claire leans against the smooth surface of the classroom wall, watching the teacher pair up students, with her ocean-blue eyes swimming in worry. She catches James' gawking at her in such a comical fashion that she imagines him having heart for eyes. Sighing, she is internally praying to God that she does not end up being his seating partner.
Click, clack, click, clack. Miss Gay is walking to the center of the classroom. She stops and slams her hand down onto the middle desk, while reading off her clipboard.
The girl's heart flutters nervously, as she walks forward to the middle desk. It is in the heart of the classroom, surrounded by the other desks, making Claire feel trapped in the sea of scrutinizing eyes. Her back straightens like an alert cat, when the teacher points to the chair beside her and calls out the following name.
No! Claire thinks miserably.
"Yes!" James squeals in delight. Skipping over to her, he wriggles his bushy eyebrows suggestively at Claire. It almost looked like furry caterpillars were dancing above his glistening, leafy-green eyes. The girl shudders in disgust, as she plops herself onto the chair, sighing loudly with minimal effort to conceal her discontent.
"I think this is fate we're meant to be together," the boy trills, giggling in merriment. He seemed oblivious to the nearby students that were laughing at him.
Claire suppresses her desire to yell profanities. Rage boils within her, as she is encircled by the students she finds most annoying. On her left and right side were Courtney and her squad, their criticizing eyes burning into her and laughing at her dismay.
In front of her view are Marie and Tyler, the lovesick couple, who exchange quick kisses when they assume the teacher isn't looking. Claire wrinkles her nose, partially in disgust at their public display of affection, and mainly because of the repulsive stench emanating from James. He had faked a yawn, risen his arm and deliberately placed it behind her chair.
Behind her, kicking away at her chair carelessly, is the troublemaker Jack and his sidekick, Okeeno. Like a furious tornado, a rush of negative emotions swallows up Claire - particularly with the knowledge that she will be tormented by these students for the entire year. It almost seemed like an elaborate, wicked scheme that is deliberately plotted against Claire with the intention of seeing her suffer. She looks up at the ceiling accusingly, thinking, what did I do to deserve this, God?
"Now everyone, settle down. We shall have our morning prayer," Miss Gay begins, clasping her hands together. "Our Father in Heaven..."
"Thank you, God, for hearing my prayer and letting me sit next to my dream girl," James whispers, loudly enough for Claire to hear. He nudges her slightly and winks playfully.
The girl bows her head down, her long hair shielding her face like golden curtains. She does not want to allow James to see her blushing. While she does find him annoying, she cannot deny that she gains a self-esteem boost from his flattery.
"... And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," the teacher finishes.
"Amen," the class echoes.
The teacher scans the classroom slowly, her dark glare detecting the faces of each student. A chilling silence seizes everyone with the awkward cough from one student. When her gloomy eyes reach Claire, she holds her stare with a stern expression, as if she is silently challenging the girl. Squirming uncomfortably in her seat, Claire averts her gaze away from the intimidating teacher and onto her desk.
"Now, some of you may know me as Miss Gay, the former deputy headteacher of this school. I resigned from that position, as I wanted to work with you students on a personal scale. One by one, I want each of you to introduce yourself and share something about yourself, so I can understand you all a bit better."
Claire groans inwardly, finding this morning activity quite tedious. Tick... tock... tick... tock... She is watching the time on the clock, eagerly waiting for form time to finish. She cannot wait to see Stephanie.
"I'm Courtney and I like puppies and kittens," says the baby-voiced girl, as she flicks her bleached blonde hair, which had thinned due to her constant use of hair dye. As much as Claire disliked Courtney, she cannot deny that the only redeeming quality Courtney has is her gorgeous appearance. With her curvy, slim body, and her rosebud lips, and her light-brown eyes reflecting the warmth of the sun, Courtney looks like a supermodel in the making.
"And I don't like jealous people," Courtney adds, eyeing Claire when she makes this comment. Glowering, Claire tightens her thin, pink lips together until it looks like a sour plum across her face. She will never admit that she is jealous of Courtney, as she feels like a potato in a blonde wig next to her dazzling beauty.
"Yes, envy is one of the deadly sins," Miss Gay replies, nodding. "Next."
"I'm Katie," says the girl sitting next to Courtney. She has a subtle beauty with her mousy hair, big dark eyes, cute button nose, and petite figure. Stephanie mainly accused Katie for changing Courtney, describing her as a 'snob'. According to Stephanie, Mr. Yaw, Katie's father, owns a beautician software company, where he easily generates a vast sum of money, and he showers Katie with generous allowances that enable her to spoil herself and her friends in materialistic heaven.
"Drama is my favorite subject. I want to be an actress when I grow up," Katie says.
"Oh, how wonderful. Do you participate in any school plays?" Miss Gay asks.
"In some, yeah. There's a Romeo and Juliet one that's coming up and I can't wait! If we do well, we get to perform it live in the London theater in front of an actual television crew," Katie exclaims, clapping her hands together enthusiastically.
"That's very exciting! I look forward to seeing the play," the teacher says.
"Drama's my fav too. That, and football," Jack states in his strong Essex accent.
No wonder you like kicking things, Claire thinks bitterly, having endured her chair being his personal target. She sneaks a glance at him. With his slender, slightly toned body from athletic training, and his piercing-blue eyes that light up with mischief, from his tousled signature bad boy hair, and that electrifying smirk on his angular face, Jack easily wins the many hearts of his female peers. While Claire accepts that he is physically attractive, she does not enjoy his arrogant, troublesome presence.
"Good to know, Jack, but it isn't your turn yet," Miss Gay says. She nods towards the middle desk. "Go on, introduce yourselves."
Claire exhales sharply. It is the moment that she has been dreading. James scrapes his chair back and stands up, grabbing the attention of his peers. Even the uninterested students that were dozing off are now looking at James in anticipation.
"Hi, I'm James!" He proclaims loudly, waving both his hands. "I have a Dalmatian dog and I like to collect treasure from trash cans. Loads of people throw away valuable things all the time! And Claire over here," he gestures wildly to her, "is my best friend and soulmate."
Claire feels herself shrinking in her seat, as the classroom erupts with laughter. In this moment, she feels like an object on display for everyone's mere amusement. Even stern-faced Miss Gay is cracking a smirk.
"Thank you, James. What an interesting introduction. Your turn now, Miss Johnson."
Claire blinks in surprise, taken aback by the teacher addressing her in such a formal manner. She clears her throat, trying to swallow down the big lump of mucus blocking her vocal cords. "Um, well... I'm Claire... and... uh..." Still feeling flustered, she is struggling to form the next string of words.
"Are you dating James?"
Claire's blood freezes. Heads automatically turn to the front. Some students look gobsmacked, others are in disbelief by the surprising question from the unexpected individual. Claire shakes her head frantically in response, her face burning red in embarrassment, while sweat trickles down her forehead like a teardrop.
"No? Oh, that's a shame. You two would make such a cute couple," Miss Gay continues gratuitously. This sends the classroom into another laughing fit, while James smiles goofily at her comment. One student is laughing so hysterically that he falls off his chair, making everyone shriek with more laughter.
Meanwhile, Claire is hiding her hot, bothered face with her sweaty hands in clear dismay. Her heart is hammering against her chest uncontrollably, and her mind is spinning in sheer confusion. It was so uncharacteristic of her strict Catholic teacher to make such remarks. None of the other teachers have ever spoken in such a manner before. Surely, they talked amongst themselves in their staff lounge, but to directly confront a student with such an intimate question so publicly?
The bell rings, indicating that form time is over.
Finally, Claire thinks sourly.