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Furrowing my brow, I scratch out the last sentence

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Furrowing my brow, I scratch out the last sentence. Sheets of paper cover the island, yet I pull a new notepad towards me. Two hours of work and I feel no closer to the final product, but work has distracted me like I hoped it would. My father had made it clear this weekend that I wasn't going back. That I'd failed. The second time I'd brought up the conversation, Oscar had groaned. Even James had looked surprised at my dogged refusal to let the conversation go.

Despite the tears, the protests that I would never make it to Oxford in this town, he had stayed firm. I was to cheer up and make the most of it. If I could do that, show that I was trying, he would reopen the conversation at the end of the year. Sixth form was my glimmering end goal. My father had set out his conditions: Straight A's, extra-curricular clubs and friends. I planned on meeting them as quickly as possible. So, the time to get my head down was now.

A soft tread on the wooden floor disturbs me. Eyes half-closed James is dressed in checked pyjama bottoms and a plain grey top. Without his usual black uniform, he looks different. Better. The hair is still too long, the lip ring too present and the scowl too permanent, but it's an improvement. He yawns and jerks his head towards me in greeting. We still aren't on speaking terms, not really, but at least we're now civil.

Pouring a tall glass of milk, he downs it in one before refilling it to the brim. He closes the fridge and steps towards me, curiosity crossing his face as he riffles through my discarded papers.

'What's happening here then?' His voice croaks with sleep. Picking up a sheet from the table, he starts to read. 'The final action, despite the profound and genuine change it shows in his character, is futile; his past mistakes and actions sealed his fate before this scene.'

I wrinkle my nose, unhappy now I hear it aloud. James stops speaking but keeps reading, raising his eyebrows as he reaches the end. 'Damn, Betty. It's good.'

'Don't sound too shocked,' I say, snatching back the paper and editing the first sentence.

'I'm sorry! It's just I'm surprised to see you doing the summer credit work. No-one ever does it. Except nerds and losers like me, of course.' He chuckles and slips into the seat beside me.

'Why not? Why would anyone start the year on zero percent of their grade when they could start on five?'

He chuckles and mutters an agreement. 'So, I'm guessing you really did all the required reading too?'

'It says required. So, yes.' Baffled by his question, I pick up my welcome letter and scan through for confirmation. As I show it to him, he shakes his head.

'Damn, girly. You're gonna make me look like a slacker.' Once again, I catch him looking at me with that same curious expression.

'What?'

'Look, it's just that you don't look like a -' he pauses as if trying to find the correct word, '- a scholar.'

'Yes, you've made that abundantly clear.'

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