I hate this place.
I hate the smell, like cleaning product and sweaty feet. I hate the way the walls seem to close in on you. They’re green like luminous vomit, and when you’re as small as me, it’s easy to get crushed against them by the mass of bodies. Which are probably the source of the sweaty smell.
I hate the rules here. They compress us into a mould. Everyone is practically identical. I associate everyone here with the colour brown. Especially Suzie. Brown hair. Brown shoes. Brown blazer. Brown personality. She nudges me as we walk.
“I saw the new Stripe girl earlier,” she says. Brown, brown, brown. Doesn’t she have anything interesting to say? I make a noise which I hope feigns interest and try not to grimace as she threads her arm through mine.
“It’s a shame, you know,” Suzie deliberates “She’s pretty. She could easily get a girlfriend if she wanted one.”
“Well, clearly, girls aren’t her type,” I reply, trying not to roll my eyes at her. It’s hard. Suzie doesn’t have to do much to irritate me “Even if she was gay, it doesn’t mean she’d want to date anyone here. Or anyone anywhere. She could just looking for a friend, you know. Not everyone in the world is sex obsessed.”
“Well, she won’t find any friends here anyway. No boy in their right mind will hang out with a Stripe girl. And, come on. Two girls can’t be just friends.” She’s looking at me eagerly, like some pathetic little puppy. She’s never been one for subtle hints. I know how she feels about me. I smile at her sweetly.
“Well we are,” I say, raising my eyebrow “And besides. I’m with Elle, and you’ve got that date with Johanna…”
I can see Suzie struggling to look enthused “Well, yeah, I guess. But I’m not really expecting that to go anywhere…”
“Well, don’t worry, Suzie. You’ll find someone soon enough,” I say patronisingly, taking my gym kit out of my locker “I’m just so glad I have Elle.”
Suzie doesn’t even bother trying to hide her scowl. I know I’m being a bitch, but I don’t much care. I never asked to be friends with Suzie. She latched on to me, when I was quite happily doing well on my own. The only person I need in my life is Eleanor. I smile at the picture of Elle in my locker as I close it. I can’t wait to see her tonight.
Suzie doesn’t speak to me as we head for gym, which suits me just fine. This morning’s geography class has left me irritable and knowing I have double music class this afternoon doesn’t help. I hate music class, where I have to listen to boys messing around on the keyboards and Suzie trying to show off to me by playing Chopsticks a thousand times. I mean, honestly, who can’t play Chopsticks? Still, I like gym class. And the thought of seeing Eleanor tonight will get me through the rest.
We’re late. Most people are nearly changed. I dump my gym bag in my usual spot in the corner. There’s no room left for Suzie. I give her as sympathetic a look as I can muster and she grudgingly looks for somewhere else to change. As I’m taking my shirt off, I see Scott Martin glance at me quickly. He always stands next to me when we change for gym. I guess it’s his only chance to get a glimpse of a girl in her underwear. He’s so clearly a closeted Stripe, but I’d never tell anyone. I know he’s technically one of them, but he’s actually a pretty decent guy. I guess he just needs to learn to be a little more subtle. Otherwise he’s going to get caught.
The teacher’s blowing her whistle. Time to head for the field. She opens the door to the Stripe’s changing room and ushers them out. I’m not really sure why they’re made to change separately. I think it’s to avoid them looking at us while we change. To avoid people like Scott. I guess that’s why we have mixed gender changing rooms too. All a little unnecessary, if you ask me.
Suzie falls in step with me again as we all make for the door. God, she’s like a leech.
“There she is!” Suzie hisses.
“Who?” I ask tiredly.
“The Stripe girl!” she says, pointing indiscreetly. I follow her finger and see who Suzie’s been talking about. The girl is tall and slender, with vibrant auburn hair down to her waist. There is a light scatter of freckles across her nose, and her eyes are startlingly blue. I catch Scott looking at her large chest and smirk. But Suzie’s right. She’s beautiful. Which makes her stand out like a sore thumb. She keeps her head bowed slightly, aware she’s being watched. She’s fresh meat. Fresh Stripe meat. New and an outcast. Still, I can see a few girls checking her out. Maybe they’ll lay off her a little if she keeps to herself.
We grab hockey sticks on our way outside. Everyone always complains about hockey, saying it hurts their back, but I love it. Partly because I’m captain of the school team. Mostly because I’m good at it. And also slightly because it’s a good excuse to hit the shins of people I don’t like.
It’s cold outside, and we all run around the field as a warm up. Then we stand huddled together as the teacher selects captains.
“Jade, Chris, Lauren, Evie,” she says “In that order, pick your teams.”
I groan internally. I’m last to pick. This doesn’t just mean I can’t have the best players- I’m going to get lumped with the worst. And to make it worse- the Stripes.
Jade and Chris pick their first players. Lauren, who has had a grudge against me since I beat her for the spot of team captain, smirks as she chooses Suzie. I supposed she thinks I’ll be offended that she chose my friend, but Suzie is just about the last person I want on my team, including all the Stripes. She’s hopeless at sports. In return, I pick her girlfriend, Alexa. It annoys Lauren to say the least, and it gains me a decent player. Take that Lauren.
My victory is short lived. The others are taking all the good players. By the time we’re down to just the Stripes, my team is looking pretty shit. Chris takes Ed, who is an excellent player, but always gets picked last because he’s just about the biggest Stripe lover in the school. Still, I’m wishing I’d picked him now. Because Lauren has taken Clare and I’m stuck with her. The new Stripe girl. My whole team groans. I should have taken Ed in the first place, but of course, that would be social suicide. I don’t want to be branded Stripe lover for the rest of my days.
“Jade and Chris, take your teams to the far pitch. Lauren and Evie, you’ll play here.”
I grip my stick hard in annoyance and my team huddles around me. I’m determined to win this game, even if it is just a class match.
“Alexa, I want you up front with me. You too, Grace. Any chance you get, try to score, but make sure you keep passing to keep them on their toes. Though not when their defence is tight! They have a good team, but Lauren will likely put Suzie in goal, and she’s useless, trust me.”
My team titters. No one much likes Suzie. Me included.
“Lewis, Craig, defence. Dani…you’re quick, right? Keep around the middle. If defence needs you, stick with them. If we’re up field and their defence is strong, come and help out.” I turn to the auburn haired Stripe. She’s probably a fast runner with those legs, but I don’t want the other team beating her up. Literally. I need a full team for the game, and they already have an extra player. I can’t afford for her to get battered with hockey sticks today. I sigh “And you…in goal.”
The team scatters to take their places, but someone grabs my arm as I try to turn away. They pull me back sharply. I’m surprised to see the Stripe girl looking down her nose at me. I scowl.
“What?” I snap.
“I play up front,” she says.
“Not now you don’t.”
“I’m a good player. I play up front,” she repeats quietly. The softness of her tone is somehow menacing. Damn. She’s cocky for a Stripe. I take a step closer to her. I’m only up to her shoulders, but I glare at her steadily.
“What’s your name?”
“Well, Faye. I’m Evie Mitchell. I just happen to be team captain. And I say you’re in goal.”
I grab her shirt, bringing my face even closer to hers “If you play upfront, you are going to get slaughtered. OK? That team is looking for any excuse to knock you down. In goal, you’re safe. I’m doing you a favour. See, these people hate Stripes. They hate you. They’re going to beat you to a pulp and-”
Faye shoves me off so hard that I gasp out in surprise. She picks up her stick from the ground, fuming.
“I’ll take my chances,” she snarls. Then she runs off, and says something to Grace as I regain my composure, humiliated. I know what she’s doing. She’s asking to switch places. Grace looks to me for approval and I nod, pointing her to the goal. I grit my teeth as I run forwards to take my position between Alexa and Faye. I switch between glaring at Lauren and Faye. What an idiot I think, staring at Faye’s auburn hair and wondering if she has a brain beneath it she’s not going to last five minutes.
Lauren wins the toss-up. She gets to start with the puck. She doesn’t hesitate a moment before she begins to move, throwing my team off guard, but I’m already following her. Faye is on my tail. Lauren dodges me just as a boy on her team shows up. He’s open for a pass. Lauren skilfully passes the puck, but all of a sudden, Faye appears. She intercepts the puck and runs hard for the goal. She’s fast, and the other team watches in astonishment as she zooms towards the goal, a blur of red hair. I sigh and lean on my stick. Lauren is on her tail. There’s nothing I can do, but watch. And three, two, one…
Lauren’s stick slams hard into the back of Faye’s legs. Faye buckles, crying out as her knees skid along the turf. I see her grit her teeth and to her credit, she stands again. She gives me a fleeting look, searching for sympathy, but I just shrug. Told you so. It was foul play, but no one would grass up Lauren. Especially not for a Stripe.
Faye tosses her hair over her shoulder and continues to run, her face as red as her hair. Please don’t do something stupid I think. I’m running now as Lauren gets closer to our goal. Grace is small and podgy. She’s going to have a hard time defending the goal. Lauren passes to a girl on her team who shoots, slamming the puck into the back of the net. I sigh. I can see we’re fighting a losing battle already.
Faye obviously doesn’t agree. She stomps back to the centre circle and takes her place on the line. It’s our turn to start with the puck. I ready myself to run, sick of Lauren’s smirk. I’ll pass to Alexa. Lauren won’t tackle her.
I start to run. I feel the rush I always do when I play rising in my chest. I dodge the first row of defence, and pass left to Alexa. She carries on running, but is blocked by two defenders. She searches frantically. I wave my arms. I’m open! But she isn’t looking at me.
She passes to Faye.
Faye keeps on towards the goal, but Lauren’s quicker. She slides across the turf to confront Faye, but Faye dodges her and advances. Faster, faster…She’s around the defence. She’s going to shoot. I hold my breath. Come on, come on…
There’s a certain elegance to the way she shoots. The puck glides like a skater on ice and lands neatly in the back of the goal. Faye lets out a small squeak, throwing her fist in the air triumphantly. I grin. We’re even now. But Lauren is fuming. I can see her turning red. She’s not going to let this go.
Suddenly, Lauren crumples to the ground, crying out and grasping her ankle. My heart stops.
I know what she’s doing.
Lauren’s causing such a fuss that the teacher turns away from umpiring the other match to see what the commotion is about. Lauren looks up at her pathetically, lip quivering.
“Miss, Faye tripped me,” she snivels sickeningly “She hit me in the legs with her stick and tripped me so she could score.”
“Is that true?” the teacher asks sternly. At least half my team are nodding. So are Lauren’s teammates. In fact, the only ones who aren’t are the other Stripes. I stare around at the others. They’re like clones, heads nodding solemnly in unison.
“It’s not true!” Faye says, gritting her teeth “How could I? I was way over-”
“Quiet, Faye,” the teacher says. She doesn’t want to listen. She turns to me “Evie?” she asks. She wants me to agree with Lauren. Everyone does. I shrug.
“I didn’t see anything,” I say. Faye lets out a cry of frustration, spitting at my feet.
“Faye! Apologise to both of them! Now!” the teacher fumes. I stare at Faye. Is she deliberately being ignorant? Stripes can’t get away with this shit. She must know that. When Faye doesn’t respond, the teacher sighs.
“Detention with me at lunch. We don’t tolerate this sort of behaviour here, Faye,” the teacher says. What she really means is we don’t tolerate Stripes here.
“Make it a week. Answer back again and I’ll make it a month. When we go back in for lunch, you’ll tidy the gym cupboard for me. Now play on! Any more foul play and I’ll have you all in detention! I won’t tolerate it!”
Lauren valiantly clambers to her feet and I storm over to a shell-shocked Faye. I shove her back down the pitch.
“In goal. Now.”
This time, she doesn’t protest.