Hazzah, it was a Friday; my favourite day of the week, when it came to school. Hazzah! I had double music! Hazzah! We started the day of standing outside school in lines and then were led in by our form tutors. Bah! Iris and I had a standing joke that one day, all the students would come together in a rebellion, showing the new head just how stupid we thought her new rules were.
You see, after we solved the previous mystery, the head was put behind bars and we needed a new one. And this Ms. Hanoi seemed to think she was running a military base. She made us march into school. Then she fired all the dinner ladies and brought in new ones that only served salads and protein packed lunches. She banned crisps and biscuits and made us bow every time an adult walked in or out of the room.
But back to the joke. ‘You hold him down and I’ll shave of his beard,’ Iris had giggled earlier in the week, referring to our new maths teacher.
‘I’ll feed Ms. Hanoi her Mrs. Lacer’s sludge till she throws up over her over-polished shoes!’ I snorted.
‘Don’t forget Mrs. Lacer herself,’ said Elena, walking up to join us in our misery. ‘I’d have her hung, drawn and quartered if I was in charge. Feeding us that slop!’
We walked in and our form tutor beckoned Elena and myself aside and told us we had to attend a meeting in the school cafeteria. So we hurried over there, wondering whether we were in trouble. A bell rang and Elena and I broke into a fast, stilted walk; running was a sin punishable by death in this school.
We arrived – Elena with just a spot of colour on her cheeks and me with my hair suddenly deciding to defy gravity – and got seats at the very back. Ms. Hanoi was at the front, ‘You are chosen to be prefects. To make the school a better place. You shall give lectures around school, help keep it clean and be a role model to the students.’
My eyes glistened with pleasure as I looked over to Elena. Her eyes were glistening too, but – oh no! – with tears… ‘I can’t give lectures!’ she spluttered, turning on the waterworks. She rubbed her eyes hard with her hand and got up to leave. I realised then that the meeting was over. ‘I don’t know if I can do this!’ she whispered making it sound like some life/death situation. I rubbed her back and we went off to our separate lessons, her to English and me to RE.
At RE, we were watching a sad movie: My Sister’s Keeper. Isabella, Avril and Iris eyed me suspiciously as I walked into class but were soon engrossed in the film. I kept thinking about poor Elena, working myself up, wondering if she was right and I was that hasty in all my decisions. What if this haphazardness makes me fail my exams? What if I end up a beggar on a street? What if I get cancer like the girl in the movie? I thought, jumping from one extreme thought cycle to another.
Suddenly, all the girls in the class started blubbing. I looked around, my eyes welling up too, wondering what was going on.
‘She just died!’
‘Look how sad the mom is!’
‘I’m a slapdash child!’ I said, before breaking down into sobs. I cried all over my work and all the words bled into each other but no one said anything; partly because they were too busy weeping over a fictitious character.
After that, Isabella and I walked to Science together. Avril and Iris went ahead, wanting to ask Elena about today morning’s meeting. They’d tried asking me, but I was too emotionally distraught to answer.
When we got there though, I saw Iris and Elena hugging Rosalie. Avril was rooting about in her bag for something. I looked around for Rosette, Rosalie’s twin but she was nowhere to be seen. When we got closer, I observed – with spectacular emotional control – that everyone, except Avril, was sobbing uncontrollably. Oh, who am I kidding? As soon as I saw them crying, I began again, in full bawling mode.
‘I’m gonna be a beggar!’
It was like I’d clicked a pause button. Everyone stopped weeping and looked at me. Avril pulled out some tissue and handed them out to Iris, Elena, Rosalie, Isabella – who’d joined in with the waterworks – and me. ‘Rosette’s fainted.’
‘She’s gonna die!’ I cried; then clapped my hand over my mouth. Hey, it’s hard being a hypochondriac (and missing the brain-to-mouth filter doesn’t really help the situation). But that set everyone off again, lifting their heads and wailing like there was no tomorrow. I’d have joined in but:
- I wasn’t sure the banshee-look would suit me and
- I was beginning to feel a little dehydrated…
The teacher walked into class then, so we had to try and get our wits about us. Suddenly, Iris began laughing. ‘It’s funny, when you think about it. Rosette isn’t going to die!’
And I’m not going to be a beggar either, I thought contentedly.
‘Hah!’ continued Iris. ‘We’ve cried twice already and it’s not even French yet!’
Science passed uneventfully. Soon we were all in the sandwich room. Iris, Isabella and Avril were queuing up to buy whatever sludge was on sale. Elena rarely bought anything in school and I – not being brought up in England – had been taught never to trust food that didn’t come from home.
We went to our regular table and were then joined by the others, clutching rather droopy brownies.
‘I don’t know why I even bother with school anymore,’ sighed Isabella, eyeing her brownie disapprovingly.
‘How was old Mrs. Lacer?’ I asked sympathetically.
‘Grouchy. She dusted my brownie with some more sugar though,’ said Isabella.
‘Mine too!’ said Avril.
‘She didn’t put anything on mine!’ cried Iris dismally.
I was surprised. Mrs. Lacer was a typical old white lady. She believed in eating healthy and was always ranting about the way England was changing for the worse. She doesn’t exactly like me – surprise, surprise – and I think it’s because I’m not white. That’s kind of racist really, but I can’t say anything about it because I have no proof. She mightn’t like me for a number of reasons. The way I tend to get carried away when I’m trying to make a point, for example…
The next lesson was PE. We hurried to get changed and got into pairs. I went with Rosalie, Elena went with Isabella and Iris went with Avril. I began talking (I always seem to have to) while we were doing stretches.
‘So why did Rosette faint? Hunger?’ I asked.
‘No, she ate something at Breakfast Club in school this morning. We were watching a movie in English and there was an injection scene. She’s afraid of needles.’
‘Oh,’ I said, sensing that she didn’t want to talk about it.
Then we began blocking techniques, jumping in front of our partners to try and stop them from getting the ball. Suddenly, Elena yelled. All of us stopped and looked at her. She was talking so fast that her words were lost as echoes in the vast hall. She saw me watching and beckoned me over.
‘Nicole! Something’s wrong with Isabella!’
I ran over to them – Rosalie beating me at it – to find Isabella holding her head, looking very dazed. She was leaning against the wall. I was about to go and ask what was wrong when Isabella keeled over entirely. All of us rushed towards her and only just managed to catch her before she whacked her head against the floor.
Another pair rushed over to help us. One was a friend to me, Grace, and the other was a not-quite-friend. ‘Hi Kate!’ I heard Rosalie say glumly. ‘Today’s going just great, huh?’
We were half-dragging, half-carrying Isabella to the nurse’s office now. We couldn’t all fit through the door now so I agreed to wait outside with Kate and Elena. Kate immediately struck up a lively conversation with Elena, turning around so the back of her head was facing me. I frowned but said nothing.
Kate and I aren’t really friends. She doesn’t talk to me much (i.e. she ignores me) and when she does it’s something horrible. Sample horrible conversation:
Me: Hi Catherine.
Kate: Nicole? Oh, I didn’t see you. You shouldn’t stand against that blackboard. You do blend in so…
The next time she said something like that, I just might want to grab that pretty little, hollow head of hers and give it a good squish…
Suddenly everyone poured out of the office. ‘The ambulance is here. They’re taking Avril along because she suddenly started coughing really badly,’ said Grace.
‘Is she alright?’ I asked.
It struck me as very odd. Avril never fell ill. She was usually very sturdy and was the kind of person who’d give you a shoulder to lean on. It left me feeling strangely off balance.
At the end that day, Rosalie caught up with me. ‘Rosette was telling me this morning that if you needed help picking out a dress for the Thursday’s Concert then she’d come over to help you.’
Ah, everyone knew I had a reputation for being clueless when it came to dressing up. Rosette was usually my knight in shining armour – or in shining silk dress, in this instance – when it came to the wardrobe department.
‘Actually, I don’t have a choice this time. I’m performing so I have to wear this blue thing,’ I replied.
‘Okay. See you,’ she said, as we went our separate ways.
The next time I saw my friends was at the Concert, a fancy charity event for some… well… charity. Iris was wearing a stunning Greek inspired dress that really complemented her honey-coloured hair. Grace was pale green number that floated around her, making her brown curls stand out. Elena was wearing a smart suit (she hated dresses) but even she looked much more glamorous than me. Avril and Isabella were still at the hospital.
I didn’t think the sapphire gown I was wearing was meant for someone of my fawn tinted skin; someone as pale as Kate, maybe. And speaking of the devil…
‘Hi guys,’ said Kate. She was wearing a suit, same as Elena. Funny; I thought she’d show up in that sweaty football kit of hers. I noticed her eyes resting on me. ‘Nice dress,’ she said. ‘Suits you.’
I was still waiting for her to yell ‘Not’ and break into maniacal laughter when Mrs. Lacer waltzed up beside us with a tray that had one sandwich left on it. She offered it to me and I would have politely refused had I not remembered then that the English considered it rude if you turned down any offer. Not wanting to provoke Mrs. Lacer into breathing fire, I took it. She smiled and waltzed off.
I was about to bite into it when the Concert manager hurried up to me and said, ‘You’re up in five.’ This translated as ‘Where the heck have you been?!’ so I thrust my sandwich at the nearest person – Kate – in panic and rushed towards the stage.
‘Good luck!’ I heard my friends – and Kate (shock, horror, swoon!) – shout from behind me.
I just had time for some final words with my accompanist before I walked onto the stage. The music started – I focused on my words and a point beyond the dazzling lights pointing at my face. I faintly saw Mrs. Lacer dancing out of the hall and then tried to locate my friends. Then I noticed a little huddle to my left. I looked over, still smiling and singing, and was very nearly blinded by Kate’s very white face suddenly appearing from within the group. She looked rather ill. I wondered what was going on.
As soon as my performance was over, I ran towards where the group had been, only to find a pale looking Rosalie (no small feat, considering she was black). ‘Kate’s ill! She’s been taken to hospital.’
Iris and Elena were nowhere to be found. ‘How’s Rosette?’ I asked, not having heard any news since Friday.
‘In a coma,’ was the quiet reply.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. My insides were screaming at me though. Rosette was ill, then Isabella and Avril and now Kate. What was wrong with me? I needed to get to the bottom of this. So, playing a hunch I said, ‘Come with me.’
Rosalie looked confused but obeyed. She followed me as I weaved through the crowd and finally exited the room. We passed Ms. Hanoi on the way, making small talk with random people, and Mrs. Lacer, serving yet more people.
We met the German duo on the way and before they could say a word, I dragged them along with me. ‘What’s happening?’ Elena protested. I hushed her and we hurried along to the back staircase.
‘Remove your shoes,’ I said, flinging my heels behind a curtain out of sight.
‘What…’ began Iris.
I hushed her. ‘This could be our next adventure. Just trust me.’
Then, I hitched up my dress, hurled myself at the wall and, doing an excellent impression of a mountain-goat, I clambered up the pipes and pushed open the staircase’s airing grate then climbed in. Without waiting for my friends – because they were all better climbers than me – I stood up as high as I could and tried to get my bearings. ‘If we’re here, then the hall’s there and… Yes.’
I tiptoed in what I thought was the right direction. Suddenly, I stopped, causing all the others to bump into me. In front of my feet was another airing grate; the kitchen airing grate…
‘Get down,’ I whispered. We all lay down, in square formation, around the grate, with just our eyes and foreheads visible to anyone who happened to look up. Seeing that there was no one in the kitchen, I began whispering, ‘Listen. What happened before everyone fell sick? They ate something.’
‘Something Mrs. Lacer had prepared!’ said Iris, catching on.
‘Iris ate something that day too, remember?’ asked Elena.
‘Yes, but she was complaining about not having it dusted with sugar!’ I exclaimed. ‘Mrs. Lacer put something on the other two’s brownies that caused them to be ill. Rosalie, when you last went to the hospital, how were Avril and Isabella faring?’
‘They both had high fevers but were otherwise fine.’
‘We need to find a common factor between the four incidents.’ said Iris thoughtfully.
‘Well, they’re all girls?’ began Elena. ‘Maybe she hates girls.’
‘But they have little else in common,’ said Rosalie, knowing how different her sister was to the others.
‘Hey,’ Iris exclaimed, and was immediately hushed. ‘That sandwich was meant for you Nicole! Mrs. Lacer didn’t see you give it to Kate!’
‘True,’ I said, softly. Then I laughed, ‘If Kate was here she would make some racist comment about there being no whites poisoned.’
They all looked at me as if I was mad. ‘What did I say?’
‘You’ve just hit the nail on the head!’ said Iris. ‘Mrs. Lacer’s racist! We just have to prove it.’
Rosalie suddenly shushed us and pointed down. The cook in question had cha-cha-cha-ed into the kitchen, locking the door behind her, muttering softly. She went over to a pot that was bubbling on the stove and pulled a little bottle out of her pocket. Suddenly, she burst into song. It was haunting and the words took my breath away.
‘Should I feed arsenic or cyanide,
To the next victim I sight?
One by one, they’ll slowly die,
Unless, of course, they’re white!’
Then, I turned around and saw that Rosalie had been smart enough to whip out her phone and record Mrs. Lacer’s sonnet. ‘Should I dial the police?’ mouthed Elena. Iris and I exchanged glances and psychically settled on ‘YES!’
Things after that were a blur. The four of us were sitting in a room with a guilty Mrs. Lacer and the Inspector who had helped with our last adventure; her confession; her arrest.
The next day, I visited my friends. Especially Kate. I felt guilty that I was the reason she was there.
When I walked in she was on her phone, looking fit as a fiddle. I’d already visited Rosette (out of her coma but still ill) and Avril and Isabella (still ill but looking better) so it was rather a surprise to see Kate looking so healthy.
‘Why did she do it?’ Kate asked, after hearing my story.
‘She hated non-whites and wanted to get rid of them. So she reacted poisons to mess with a gene that non-whites had. That’s why Rosette went into a coma while Avril and Isabella – who have white blood in them – weren’t badly affected. Her mom was a toxicologist and fortunately had antidotes for them.’
‘And that’s why I didn’t fall ill at all,’ referring to my previous comment and pointing to her very white skin.
‘So why are you still here?’ I asked.
‘Can’t be bothered to go to school,’ she said, rolling her eyes.
Here I was, making an effort to be nice, and there she was steamrolling over me.
‘Why are you so mean to me?’ I burst out.
‘Cause you’re so good at everything.’ Her eyes were on her phone. ‘Also you call me Catherine.’
‘Oh,’ I said, not realising jealousy was at the root of her hatred. Suddenly, a piano tune burst out of her phone.
‘You like Bluestone Alley?’ I asked, wondering how I could have counted someone who liked that song as an enemy. ‘Hey, I play it all the time!’
‘I love it. So you play Piano-Tiles?’
‘No. I play the actual piano.’ I said in a mock unimpressed voice.
Then we both burst out laughing. Wow. What a roller-coaster of a week it had been. A wannabe serial-killer had been stopped, hence a new adventure had been solved and more importantly, a new (best?) friend had been made. And above all, it was Friday again. Hazzah!