Phew.

Only half an hour left.

Thirty minutes.

Thirty minutes until home time. I am sitting in the back corner of Miss Holden’s Year 11 science lesson. I’ve always been scared of Science. Either it’s been having a complete rat for a teacher or the fear of fire. Fire in the same room as Ash. The last year’s not been so bad though. In Year 10 I worked out how to enjoy it. A way to put asunder my physics fears! I sat next to Phil. My joint best friend of 9 years. And I’m only 16. Phil’s been there through everything, and has now saved my biology bacon.

I look at Phil.

And smile. This next 30 minutes will be a breeze. Phil wants to be a doctor when he grows up, and loves experiments. He loves fire. And I love to let him! He does all the work, but it’s for his own good. When he becomes a doctor, it’ll be all thanks to me. His effort, and my effortful lack of! What a team! Together we are amazing! Together we are The Flames!

Hence the nicknames Gary and Cal.

So now I’m safe from the Bunsens. And Miss Holden’s officially not a cow. She’s lovely! A spritely soul! I don’t dread Science any more! I’ve won!

 

I look around the room and take in the moment.

Bunsen burners make the lab look like Pentecost. Goggles are being respected like it’s 100 years ago. A hunched-over lab technician pushes a trolley through small synapses between students’ seats with the motion and demeanour of a retired velociraptor. Phil is scribbling. Steaming up his glasses. I am flirting with Becky. Becky is flirting with me. Things are going brilliantly. For everyone. 

Except for Miss. She’s bored and her mind has begun to wander. This is a great group of teenagers.

Ripe.

 

Ripe for meddling! She scours the room for potential satire. She sees me and Phil. Then me and Becky, and smiles. She’1s connected the words ‘teenagers’ and ‘flames’, and suspects sparks in our corner. She quietly concocts a plan to unmask the truth. “OK, everybody. Put your pens down.” Phil puts our pen down. “I’m passing a piece of paper round the class. I want everyone to write their name on it and also the name of the person in this class they would go out with if they had to.”

Eep.

“Then fold it over and pass it on to the next person.”

I am not a secure 16 year old. I’m really not. I start planning my exit strategy.

“Phil, what should I do?”

Cal does all the work in Science. He’ll save me! I know he appreciates me letting him do everything. He’ll be a rich doctor someday! And he’ll let me siphon off billions! Dan and Phil! The Awesome Flames!

“I dunno, Dan. Look, whatever. I’m trying to get on with my work.”

“What?”

Ah! The big picture! I give Phil a knowing wink. He’s got his head screwed on, and also his future. Still, all the future money in the world won’t save me now.  What can I do? I could write Becky’s name… I do like her. But what would people say if they found out? Would they really let us happily snog behind Room 80? I’d totally get properly mocked for it. I mean, this is secondary school. Ok. I won’t write Becky’s name. What if I wrote something hilarious? Like Miss Holden’s name! Or one of my mates!

I think.

I decide not to.

Oh man.

I’m gonna get mocked for whatever I write. Ok, so I’m 6 foot 3 and could probably batter half the year. I’d probably end up just getting mocked for that too. My only hope now is damage limitation.

Hang on. What about…? That’s it! I’ll write down the name of a person so obviously not who I fancy that everyone will know I’m joking and not take me seriously! Someone forgettable. Someone too nice to be noticed.

The paper’s passed to me. I scribble a name. And pass the folded paper to Jody. Jody smiles at me nervously and takes the paper. She’s thought about this. Whatever she writes she’s going to be mocked for. Her only hope now is damage limitation. She scribbles the name of a person so obviously not who she fancies that everyone will know she’s joking and not take her seriously.

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

A few minutes have gone by while the paper finishes its’ round. Miss waits at the front with the excitement of a pregnant mom. She glances at me. Again. She’s been glancing over at me and Becky a lot today. Wait! Does she know? Is this all just a ruse? Has Miss been trying to get me and Becky to admit our feelings for each other in front of the whole class? I cannot believe it! Shocker! But then, no! Does that make her… a cow?

Oh no!

I look at Phil. He is steady. I am safe.

Miss Holden gleefully receives and rifles through the rumours in her romance register like a fat kid digging his face into a lucky dip to eat the toy. I’m safe. I’ve seen her trap and stepped to one side like an Orc with an unusually messed up face for an Orc. There’s no way this can go wrong.

“Oooooohhhhh!!! What do we have here?!”

Eep.

“We have a match!”

There is a thunderous awkwardness as thirty insecure teenagers fear for their social lives. I’m scared. Surely nobody would have picked me! No one would ever want to go out with me! And anyhow, the odds of me also naming that person would be tiny! Like the size of all of my facial hairs end-to-end. I glance at Becky worriedly. She glances right back. “Who is it, Miss?” asks Waqar, the only man to have ever roundhouse-d my face and immediately apologised.

“It’s Jody and Gary!!!!”

The class laughs. I glance at Jody. Her face is in her hands.

I laugh. Phew. I survived! I’m filled with a mixture of glee and relief (or ‘glelief’). To think I worried. Miss has brought smiles to most faces in the room! I guess she’s not all that bad. I look around to join the rest of the class in this beautiful shared moment.

The whole class is staring at me with glelief.

Hang on.

..At me…Why are they looking at me?

I replay the names in my head.

“Jody and Gary…

Oh no!!

 

My face is in my hands. Miss Holden makes more ‘ooo’ noises and admits that “That’s not what I expected!” The class carries on laughing. Jody looks at me and her eyes ask me what I was thinking. Phil sensitively interrupts. “I need the loo, can you watch our experiment?

Ash walks over to give his social condolensces.

“Oh actually, Ash, could you look after my Bunsen burner for a few minutes? That way Dan can carry on flirting…”

Ash agrees, and Phil leaves the room. Ash starts playing with our flame.

Oh no!

I look at my watch. 25 minutes until home time.

I put my face back in my hands.

And fear.

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