Solitaire


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6. Six

FOUR

I’m late because Mum thought I said eight. I said 

seven thirty. How can you confuse eight with seven 

“Whose birthday is it?” she asks while we’re in the car.

“No one’s. We’re just meeting up.”

“Do you have enough money? I can sub you.”

“I’ve got fifteen pounds.”

“Will Becky be there?”

“And Lauren and Evelyn?”

When I speak to my parents, I don’t actually sound 

very grumpy. I’m usually quite cheerful-sounding when

I talk. I’m good at that. 

It’s Tuesday. Evelyn organised some ‘start of term’ 

thing at Pizza Express. I don’t really want to go, but I 

think it’s important to make the effort. Social convention 

and all. 

I say hello to the people who notice my entrance and 

sit at the end of the table. I nearly die when I realise that 

Lucas is here. I know, already, that I’m going to find it 

difficult to think of things to say to him. I successfully 

avoided him for the rest of yesterday and all of today for 

this exact reason. Obviously, Evelyn, Lauren and Becky 

took the opportunity to make him the ‘boy’ of our group. 

Having a boy in your social group is the equivalent of 

having a house with a pool, or a designer shirt with the 

logo on it, or a Ferrari. It just makes you more important.

A waiter hurries over to me so I order a diet lemonade 

and stare down the long table. All the people are chatting 

and laughing and smiling and it sort of makes me feel a 

bit sad, like I’m watching them through a dirty window.

“Yeah, but most of the girls who move to Truham 

only move because they want to be around boys all the 

time.” Becky, seated next to me, is talking at Lucas who 

is seated across from us. “So many attention whores.”

 

“To be fair,” he says, “Truham girls are basically

worshipped.” 

Lucas catches my eye and smiles his awkward smile. 

He’s got this hilarious Hawaiian shirt on: the tight-fit kind 

with the collar done right up and the sleeves slightly rolled. 

He doesn’t look as embarrassed as yesterday – in fact, he 

looks fashionable. I didn’t think he would be that sort of 

guy. The sort of guy who wears Hawaiian shirts. A hipster

sort of guy. I make the deduction that he definitely has 

a blog.

“Only because boys at all-boys’ schools are sexually 

deprived,” says Evelyn, who is next to Lucas, waving her 

arms around to emphasise her point. “I’ve said it before 

and I’ll say it again. Single-sex schools damage humanity. 

The number of girls in our school that are socially clueless 

because they haven’t spoken to any boys...”

“...It’s way out of control, man,” concludes Lauren, 

who is on the other side of Evelyn.

“I love the Truham girls’ uniform,” sighs Becky. “They 

all look so good in that tie.” She gestures abstractly to her 

neck. “Like, thin stripes look way nicer than thick stripes.”

“It’s not real life,” says Lucas, nodding earnestly. “In 

real life, there are boys and there are girls. Not just one 

or the other.” 

“But that tie,” says Becky. “I mean, I can’t even.”

They all nod and then start talking about something 

else. I continue to do what I do best. Watch.

There’s a boy sitting next to Lauren, talking to the girls 

at the opposite end of the table. His name is Ben Hope. 

Ben Hope is the guy at Higgs. And, by the guy, I mean 

that one boy in the sixth form that every single girl in 

the entire school has a crush on. There’s always one. Tall 

and slim-built. Skinny trousers and tight shirts. He usually 

straightens his dark brown hair and, I swear to God, it 

defies gravity because it swishes in a kind of organised 

vortex, but, when he doesn’t straighten it, it’s all curly 

and he just looks so cute you want to die. He always 

appears to be serene. He skateboards.

I, personally, do not ‘fancy’ him. I’m just trying to 

express his perfection. I actually think that a lot of people 

are very beautiful, and maybe even more beautiful when 

they’re not aware of it themselves. In the end, though, 

being beautiful doesn’t do much for you as a person apart 

from raise your ego and give you an increased sense of 

vanity.

Ben Hope notices me staring. I need to control my 

staring.

Lucas is talking at me. I think that he’s trying to involve 

me in this conversation, which is kind of nice, but also 

irritating and unnecessary. “Tori, do you like Bruno Mars?”

“What?”

He hesitates, so Becky steps in. “Tori. Bruno Mars. 

Come on. He’s fabulous, right?”

“What?”

“The. Song. That. Is. Playing. Do. You. Like. It?”

I hadn’t even registered that music was playing in this 

restaurant. It’s ‘Grenade’ by Bruno Mars.

I quickly analyse the song.

“I think... it’s unlikely anyone would want to catch a 

grenade for anyone else. Or jump in front of a train for 

someone else. That’s very counter-productive.” Then, 

quieter, so no one hears: “If you wanted to do either of 

those things, it would be for yourself.”

Lauren smacks her hand on the table. “Exactly what I 

said.”

Becky laughs at me and says, “You just don’t like it 

because it’s Top 40.”

Evelyn steps up. Dissing anything mainstream is her 

personal area of expertise. “Chart music,” she says, “is 

filled with auto-tuned girls who only get famous because 

they wear tight shorts and bandeau tops, and rappers who 

can’t do anything except talk quickly.”

 

If I’m completely honest, I don’t even like music that

much. I just like individual songs. I find one song that I 

really love and then I listen to it about twenty billion 

times until I hate it and have ruined it for myself. At the 

moment, it’s ‘Message in a Bottle’ by the Police, and by 

Sunday I will never want to listen to it again. I’m an idiot.

“If it’s so crap, then why does it make it into the charts?” 

asks Becky.

Evelyn runs a hand through her hair. “Because we live 

in a commercialised world where everyone buys music 

just because someone else has.”

It’s right after she finishes saying this that I realise silence 

has swept over our table. I turn round and experience 

minor heart failure.

Michael Holden has swooped into the restaurant.

I know immediately that he is coming for me. He’s 

grinning like a maniac, eyes locked on this end of the 

table. All heads turn as he pulls over a chair and makes 

himself comfortable at the head of the table between me 

and Lucas.

Everyone sort of stares, then murmurs, then shrugs and 

then gets on with eating, assuming that he must have been 

invited by someone else. Everyone except me, Becky, 

Lucas, Lauren and Evelyn.

 

“I need to tell you something,” he says to me, eyes on 

fire. “I absolutely need to tell you something.”

Lauren speaks up. “You go to our school!”

Michael actually holds out a hand for Lauren to shake. 

I find myself genuinely unable to tell whether he’s being 

sarcastic or not. “Michael Holden, Year 13. Nice to meet 

you...?”

“Lauren Romilly. Year 12.” Lauren, bemused, takes 

the hand and shakes it. “Er – nice to meet you too.” 

“No offence,” says Evelyn, “but, like, why are you 

here?”

Michael stares at her intensely until she realises that she 

needs to introduce herself.

“I’m... Evelyn Foley?” she says.

Michael shrugs. “Are you? You sound uncertain.”

Evelyn does not like to be teased. 

He winks at her. “I needed to talk to Tori.”

There is a long and grating silence before Becky says, 

“And... er... how do you know Tori?”

“Tori and I happened to meet in the midst of our 

Solitaire investigations.”

Her head tilts to one side. She looks at me. “You’ve 

been investigating?”

“Erm, no,” I say.

 

“Then...?”

“I just followed this trail of Post-it notes.”

“What?”

“I followed a trail of Post-it notes. They led to the 

Solitaire blog.”

“Ah... that’s cool...”

I love Becky, but sometimes she acts like such a bimbo. 

It really pisses me off because she got into grammar school 

for Christ’s sake. She got ten A grades at GCSE.

Meanwhile, Michael is helping himself to our leftover 

starters. With his free hand, he points ambiguously towards 

Becky. “Are you Becky Allen?”

Becky slowly turns to Michael. “Are you psychic?”

“Just a fairly capable Facebook stalker. You’re all lucky 

I’m not a serial killer.” His finger, still flexed, gravitates 

towards Lucas. “And Lucas Ryan. We’ve met already.” 

He smiles at him so forcefully that it comes across as 

patronising. “I should thank you. You’re the one who led 

me to this girl.”

Lucas nods. 

“I like your shirt,” says Michael, eyes glazing slightly.

“Thanks,” says Lucas, definitely not meaning it. 

I start to wonder whether Lucas knew Michael at 

Truham. Judging by Nick and Charlie’s reaction, he 

probably did. Maybe he doesn’t really want to associate

with Michael Holden. It’s almost making me feel sorry for 

Michael Holden. For the second time.

Michael looks past Becky. “And what’s your name?” 

For a moment, I don’t quite realise who he’s talking 

to. Then I see Rita. She pokes her head round from 

Becky’s other side.

“Er, Rita. Rita Sengupta.” She laughs. I’m not sure 

why she laughs, but she does anyway. Rita is probably 

the only other girl with whom I am civil, besides Becky 

and Lauren and Evelyn. She hangs around with Lauren, 

but you tend not to notice her. She’s the only girl I know 

who can pull off a pixie crop.

Michael lights up like it’s Christmas morning. “Rita! 

That is a fantastic name. Lovely Rita!”

By the time I realise that he’s referring to the Beatles’ 

song, the conversation has already moved on. It’s surprising 

I even recognise it. I hate the Beatles.

“So, you and Tori just... met? And started talking?” asks 

Becky. “That seems sort of unlikely.”

It’s funny because it’s true.

“Yes,” says Michael. “Unlikely, yes. But that is what 

happened.”

Once again, he looks into my face, casually blanking 

the entire group. I cannot articulate how uncomfortable 

I feel right now. This is worse than drama GCSE.

“Anyway, Tori, there’s something I want to tell you.”

I blink, sitting on my hands.

Lauren and Becky and Evelyn and Lucas and Rita are 

listening intently. Michael glances at each face over his 

large glasses.

“But... I, erm, can’t remember what it was.”

Lucas sneers. “You tracked her all the way down to 

this restaurant to tell her something and now you can’t 

even remember what it is?” 

This time Michael picks up on Lucas’s tone. “Excuse 

me for having a memory like a sieve. I feel I deserve credit 

for making the effort to come here.”

“Why couldn’t you just send her a message on Facebook?”

“Facebook is for trivialities such as what takeaways 

people are having and how many ‘lols’ they had the night 

before with their ‘gals’.”

Lucas shakes his head. “I just don’t get why you’d 

actually come down here and then forget. You wouldn’t 

forget if it was something important.”

“On the contrary, you’d probably be more likely to 

forget the most important things of all.”

Becky interjects: “So are you and Tori friends now?” 

Michael continues to contemplate Lucas before addressing

Becky. “That is a fantastic question.” Then he faces me. 

“What do you think? Are we friends now?”

I genuinely can’t think of an answer, because the answer, 

in my opinion, is definitely not yes, but it’s definitely not 

no either.

“How can we be friends if you don’t know anything 

about me?” I say.

He taps his chin thoughtfully. “Let’s see. I know that 

your name is Victoria Spring. You’re in Year 12. Your 

Facebook indicates that you were born on April 5th. You 

are an introvert with a pessimist complex. You’re wearing 

pretty plain clothes – jumper, jeans – you don’t like 

embellishments and fuss. You don’t care about dressing 

up for people. You’ll have ordered a margherita pizza – 

you’re a picky eater. You rarely update your Facebook 

– you don’t care for social activities. But you followed 

the Post-it trail yesterday, just like I did. You’re curious.” 

He leans in. “You like to act as if you care about nothing 

and if you carry on like that then you’re going to drown 

in the abyss you have imagined for yourself.”

He stops. His smile vanishes, leaving only its ghost.

“Jesus, mate, you are a stalker!” Lauren attempts a laugh, 

but no one else joins in.

 

“No,” Michael says. “I just pay attention.”

“It’s like you’re in love with her or something,” says 

Evelyn.

Michael smiles a knowing smile. “I suppose it is a bit 

like that.”

“You’re gay though, aren’t you?” says Lauren, forever 

unafraid to say what other people are thinking. “Like, I 

heard that you’re gay.”

“Oooh, you’ve heard about me?” He leans in. 

“Intriguing.”

“Are you though?” asks Lucas, trying unsuccessfully to 

sound casual.

Michael waves a hand about. “Some people say that.” 

Then he grins and points a finger at him. “You never 

know, it might be you I’m in love with.”

Lucas immediately colours.

“You’re gay!” squeaks Becky. “Tori has a gay best 

friend! I. Am. Jealous.”

Sometimes I’m embarrassed to be friends with Becky.

“I need to pee,” I say, even though I don’t, and I leave 

the table and find myself in the restaurant bathroom staring 

at myself in the mirror while P!nk is telling me to “raise 

my glass”. I stay there for too long. Older ladies shoot 

me discerning looks as they waddle in and out of cubicles.

 

I don’t know what I’m doing really. I just keep thinking 

about what Michael said. Drowning in my abyss. I don’t 

know. Why does that matter? Why does that bother me? 

Jesus Christ, why did I bother coming out tonight?

I continue to stare at myself in this mirror and I imagine 

a voice reminding me to be funny and chatty and happy, 

like normal people. As the voice reminds me, I start to 

feel a bit more positive about stuff, even though any 

residual enthusiasm for seeing Lucas again has drained 

away. I think it’s because of that Hawaiian shirt. I go back 

into the restaurant.

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