His script clutched tightly in his hand, Miles makes his way to classroom 9b, where he said he’d meet Hattie, June and Orlando. He hasn’t actually told Hattie that Orlando’s coming along too, but he hopes she’ll be okay with it.
As he walks through the packed corridors, he passes Orlando’s group of friends, milling around their lockers close to the classroom that he’s heading for. Miles sighs, wishing that he could avoid an encounter with them, but he guesses that it’s not possible. And he guesses right.
“Hey, look, it’s the gay Santa!” One of them calls at the rest of them laugh, except for one of them. Standing in the middle of the gaggle is Orlando, who looks quite uncomfortable. Miles wonders whether or not he’s actually going to come to the rehearsal or whether he’s going to chicken out, but at that moment he grabs something from his locker then pushes past his ‘friends’ and makes a beeline for Miles. The boys are all stunned for a moment, but then regain themselves when they see Orlando give a half-smile to the shorter boy.
“Hey, ‘lando? What’cha doin’?” They call, but Orlando just ignores them and joins Miles as they walk into the classroom. He looks pained to do so but once the classroom door closes behind them he breathes out heavily, a sigh of relief.
“Sorry about them.”
“Err, no problem.” Miles shrugs, “Are they always like that?” Orlando nod,
“I suppose, yes… Well, more so now than when I first met them. They were different back then.”
“Hmm.” He says, and the conversation dwindles into awkward silence, thankfully soon broken by June and Hattie, coming through the door together, laughing about something, June a very vibrant shade of red.
“Hello,” He greets them as they enter the classroom, June flushing even brighter and Hattie giggling a little. “Orlando is here, I’m sure that’s okay?” He asks, with a slight pleading tone to his voice. Hattie and June are in fact fine with Orlando’s presence, just as long as he behaves himself, and does not have any of his friends with him. Soon, the oddly matched four pull out their scripts and get on with their rehearsal, Hattie giving them all tips in a kind, helpful way, and Miles quietly growing with confidence as he delivers his lines, still painfully shy, but improving.
As they practice the scene where the missing present is discovered to be missing, which involves all four of them, Hattie bossily (but kindly) sends June to sit under the imaginary tree and Orlando to the imaginary wings. Instead of going to where he is sent, however, the tall boy walks over to June and bashfully looks down at his shoes as he speak.
“I’m sorry for saying that you’re a bad actor. You know, when I was looking at the list.” He mutters quietly to her, but she hears well enough and gives him a comforting smile. Before the rehearsal she wouldn’t have dreamed of ever doing such a thing, but over the course of the lunch break they had all grown more comfortable around each other.
“It’s okay.” She smiles back. Just as she says this Hattie looks down at her watch and gasps as she realises the time.
“We’ve all got to go and have lunch now: lessons start again in 10 minutes!” Quickly they shove the desks they had moved back into position and make for the door, but just as they reach it Orlando’s group of friends burst in, laughing loudly.
“How’s the little party in here going then, eh?” One asks cockily, looking judgingly at Hattie, June and Miles. His gaze skips to Orlando and his expression is a mix of a glare and a question.
“All having a little gay chat together are you?” Another chimes in, stepping forward and giving Miles a little shove.
“Just leave them alone.” Orlando mutters, and the group of boys turn to him.
“What was that, ‘lando?” “Yeah, you sticking up for these idiots?” “Why you doing that, ‘lando?” They ask in a clamour of voices and he begins to go red, but Miles can see the anger and determination building in him.
“Why you hanging out with this gay bunch-”
“Shut up!” Orlando suddenly shouts, cutting them all off and glaring menacingly at them. “Shut up about them being stupid, and gay!”
“Calm down,” “Yeah, it’s just banter.” “They’re cool with it.”
“No.” Orlando interrupts, “And if they are, they shouldn’t be. I’m certainly not.” He takes a deep breath, “They are nice people. Nicer than you ever were.” He shakes his head.
“Orlando…” Hattie starts softly, but stops herself.
“What if I had a secret? Something that shouldn’t matter, but does?” He continues, “What if I had this secret, that I don’t trust you, my friends, enough to tell in fear that you will do something. I don’t know what, but something. And I can’t tell you this secret, and it is so stupid, but Hattie knows. She doesn’t care. She is nice about it. We’d hardly even spoken before, and now I trust her more than I trust any of you. That’s twisted.” He shakes his head, seemingly finished.
“Alright then, you gonna tell us or what?” One of Orlando’s friends asks dumbly.
“NO.” Orlando bellows, leaving the classroom and banging the door shut behind him. His new trio of friends hurry after him to make sure he is alright, and take him to lunch.