“You’re new,” the girl said, looking Maggie up and down. Not a statement, not a question: an accusation. The girl wore a sneer like Maggie’s dad wore his favourite jacket. It was ugly, but a perfect fit. And, just like her dad, this girl wasn’t about to take it off because Maggie didn’t like it.
Maggie considered all the various responses on the sarcastic spectrum, before settling on a neutral, “Yes”. This morning, over breakfast, she’d given Dad her word she would try her very best not to get expelled, not on the first day, anyway. It was a promise she intended to keep. This time.
The girl nodded, and continued to size Maggie up. There was a lot to take in, as Maggie was all too aware. She was tall for her age, and she felt as awkward as she thought she looked. Her size always drew the attention of people with something to prove, bullies and teachers alike. Being self conscious about it never helped: they could smell weakness, they thrived on it. Jenny, her last psychologist, said not to worry about it, she would grow into her body. Whatever the fuck that meant.
“Where you from?”
“Totnes, “ Maggie said.
“Do I sound Scottish?”
“I don’t know. Never met a Scottish, before.”
“You still haven’t. I’m from Devon. Totnes is in Devon.”
“Hey! Anna!” the girl called over Maggie shoulder. “This one’s a Scottish! From that place with the monster.”
Maggie opened her mouth to respond, but another girl – presumably Anna – stuck her head in her face. Bright green sparkling eyes stared into Maggie’s brown ones.
“Looks like they’ve mislaid the monster, to me,” Anna said. “You are fucking huge, Nessie.” There was something in the way she spoke, in her smile, in her general manner, which stopped Maggie from punching her. Despite the words, there didn’t seem to be any malice.
Anna’s smile widened and she stuck her hand out, like her dad did when he was introduced to someone for the first time. “My name’s Anna,” she said. “What brings you down from Scotland, Nessie?”
Maggie found herself duplicating the strange girl’s smile as she shook her hand.
“I’m not Scottish,” she said. “Your friend, here, obviously doesn’t pay attention in her geography lessons. I’m from Totnes. My name is Maggie.”
“Don’t pay no attention to Dips,” Anna said. “She thinks the world ends at the M25. Never been out of London, have you Dips?” Dips shook her head, nearly – but not quite – dislodging the sneer.
“I know Totnes,” Anna continued. “Spent last summer at my cousin’s house, in Paignton. Went to Totnes for a day. Full of hippies and crystal shops. You’re well out of it, Nessie. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the others.”