As I walked through the St Clair College corridor, I focused my eyes forward. My satchel bounced at the side of my leg and my high ponytail tickled the back of my neck. I held my head up high and forced my shoulders back as I floated down the corridor. I couldn’t be that shy little girl who’d cry in the corner every time someone made a snarky comment at her. A blue exit door sat at the end of the corridor. The door had no windows; it almost looked like a fire exit if you didn’t know this place. Luckily for me, I had someone who told me all about the tricks and tips to get around here.
With more effort than I thought I’d need, I pushed open the door. It took my eyes a while to adjust to the light. The sun reflected on the white walls and floor of the courtyard, making it seem like a nicer day than it was. There were a couple of tables, all already occupied, and raised flowerbeds circled each one. It felt bizarre how different this place was to my old college, only a small town away. Most of the time we had to sit inside because there was always lots of rubbish dancing around the floor. Ollie wasn’t kidding when he said that the college spent a lot of time to making the appearance of the place pleasing to the eye. I felt like I stepped into one of those really fancy American high school sets. I should have believed all the things he used to tell me about this place. It was hard to believe because he naturally had a wild imagination, always turning a mundane topic into something laugh-worthy.
“I wish you were taking me round here, Ollie,” I muttered under my breath. But then Ollie definitely wouldn’t have approved of what I was doing if he were still here. There would also be no reason for me to be here doing this if he was still around.
I had to do a one months’ extreme shop to transform myself into someone unrecognizable. It was a lot to do, especially when you’re alone. I changed my purple striped hair back to the dull brown that it was originally, which Ollie said he’d love to see again, but also cleared and refreshed my wardrobe into one that showed that I had “taste” that was acceptable to society. I was told all the way through secondary school that I’d be “prettier” with a hint of colour on my cheeks and my lion mane hair brushed away from my face. Back then I didn’t care about how I looked. I repelled against anything that was the latest fashion trend and set my own rules. It felt comfortable and, well, me. Being in pastille blue was definitely not me. But I had to dress uncomfortably and expose more of my body to ensure that I got the attention I needed for everything to work.
“You’d never survive at my place, Sam. They’d toss and turn you until you’re insides were scrambled.” Ollie would say. But in the end he was the one that got scrambled.
Amongst the sound of cutlery, chewing and chitchat that hummed around the yard, there was a burst of laughter that came from the middle table. Every possible surface area was taken and the flowerbeds were used as extra seating space. There were more people round that table than any of the others. Too many people in my eyes. Yet no one seemed bothered to say so or do anything about it. Another burst of laughter swept round the courtyard, much louder than the first and seemed to encourage some chanting from within the middle table. A boy with brown hair stood on a chair, throwing his head back and laughing dramatically. My eyes moved to an unnaturally tanned girl sitting on the bench. She smiled and then squealed as she got hugged from behind by a larger-framed male. She, then too, threw her head back and released a laugh like a crazy person, along with the blonde guy behind her. Everyone did a cycle of the same actions, a hair flick or comb of their hair with their fingers, a flash of their bleach white teeth and then the hugely attention seeking laugh that occasionally made a few people jump on the other tables. It all seemed too joyful. My lips started to slant up and I bit my upper lip to stop my smile from forming. I slipped my hand into my shorts pocket, reminding myself why I was there. I felt the torn edges where Ollie must have been in a rush to write the note. As I closed my eyes, I recited his words. The note fitted perfectly in my palm. I held it for a second before reopening my eyes and taking out my hand, leaving it safely tucked away from the crowd.
I circled the sides of the courtyard as I slyly kept my eye on the central table, taking in the amount of bodies that managed to cram themselves in the flowerbed circle. The plan I had before wouldn’t work now. I knew Ollie said they took over the college but I didn’t think he meant it physically. As I reached the back, there seemed to be a smaller group of girls, still on their table, but not as involved as those at the front. Unlike many of the people at the table, they were using their lunchtime to eat as well as talk. They didn’t want to attract attention. They watched one another intently as they each took their turn to speak, like they were about to let the most important words slip out any second. They were all beautiful, with flawless makeup, their eyes expressing more feeling than the boy still screaming with laughter on the chair, and their slender legs were all crossed. Seeing them sit round so quietly was not what I had expected from girls looking like this. I expected them to be flirting their way through their lunchtimes, battering their eyelids to get a free meal.
I readjusted my bag on my shoulder and then wiped both of my clammy hands on my denim shorts. I suddenly felt like I didn’t try hard enough to dress myself this morning. I knew I should have put on that floral skater dress on instead. The thought of me thinking about my own fashion sense suddenly made me smile. I would never have spoken about such a thing back when Ollie was around. He was always the one to talk about fashion, even if he only got all of his clothes from the charity shop that sat below my home.
Before I started walking over, the girl with her hair up in a messy bun and wearing a florescent yellow scarf looked up and smiled at me.
I knew I was in before I even got there.