The next few days pass quickly, a blur of rehearsals, line learning and new friendships. The teachers watch on, slightly bemused by the unlikely friendship blossoming between June, Hattie, Miles and, strangest of all, Orlando. The boy has started looking sullen, and deeply unhappy, sitting away from his regular ‘friends’ and in most cases sitting alone in lessons. However, he is at his happiest when with his three new friends. They seem to enjoy each other’s presence and often steal away into an empty classroom to rehearse their parts in the play together.
In rehearsals, Miles has surprised everyone, standing proudly and delivering his lines well, with confidence. As soon as he leaves the stage though, he returns to his usual shy self and blushes whenever anyone so much as looks at him, as if being on stage is all the being noticed that he can handle.
Hattie is being kinder, not that she ever used to be intentionally cruel, but now she thinks about what she is saying more, and in some cases, words things differently.
June is also coming out of her shell a little, the confidence of her new found friends rubbing of on her a little. She smiles more, but still finds it hard to volunteer to speak in lessons.
Overall, they are good influences on each other, and when together, are a force to be reckoned with, any harsh comments flung at them dealt with, leaving no lasting marks. Orlando has been forgiven for any past hardships to the others, and seems more peaceful now.
The night before the show, after rehearsals have ended, the four of them decide to go out for tea together. They get their bags and head to a fast food place nearby. Orlando offers to pay for them all but the other 3 shush him and insist on paying themselves, so they all get up and order together. When they get back to their table, however, they find it has been taken.
“Oh, look who it is. Didn’t think we’d see you here.” One of Orlando’s former friends sneers, with a look on his face that shows that they were expecting him and they knew that they were sitting at their table. Orlando blushes red and starts to turn away to find a new table, but Hattie holds him in place then steps forward.
“Excuse me, but this is our table.” She says firmly.
“Ah, I’ll think you’ll find that it’s our table now.” One of the boys sneers and the other laugh.
“But my bag is there.” Hattie insists, gesturing towards the red rucksack that sits underneath one of the chairs. One of the boys reaches for it and pick it up, placing it on the table in front of them. Hattie makes a grab for it but he snatches it out of her way, a malicious grin on his face.
“Now now, don’t be too hasty. We can’t be sure that it’s yours, we’ll have to check inside for personal belongings.” As he pushes the rucksack across the table to another of the group, they all laugh meanly. Hattie goes bright red as he unzips the bag and reaches inside.
“No, stop! Get out of there, that’s my stuff!” She stumbles, flustered, as he empties out some school books, a pencil case, her phone, her house keys, and some unused pads. Standing next to her, Miles can feel the embarrassment radiating off her, and the anger radiating off Orlando as he stands and fumes silently. The group of boys begin to throw Hattie’s belongings around amongst themselves, laughing as she tries to snatch them out of the air above her head.
“I tell you what, we’ll give you your stuff back if Orlando tells us his little secret.” One grins, and Miles feels the taller boy stiffen beside him.
“Fine,” Hattie says, sounding unbothered, but her fingers trembling by her sides, “Keep it then.” The boys look surprised by this, but soon continue to throw her belongings across the table to each other.
“No, Hattie. Thank you, but no. You can’t just let them take your things to try and protect me. I can fight my own battles.” Orlando pauses, quickly adding, “I appreciate it though. Thanks.”
“Orlando…” June starts, but doesn’t finish what she was going to say after receiving a sharp glare from one of Orlando’s ex-friends.
“Hand over the bag first, then I’ll tell you.” He says, meeting one of his ex-friends eyes and holding their gaze. The boy gestures to the others to put the stuff back into the bag then holds it out to him, not breaking the eye contact. Orlando reaches for the bag and tries to take it, but the boy doesn’t let go.
“There, you’ve got your hand on it. Tell me your secret, and I’ll let go.”
“Orlando, you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to tell them.” Hattie pleads from behind, “I don’t need my bag. It’s all replaceable. I don’t want to be the one to force you into saying. You need to do it when you’re ready.”
“It doesn’t matter if I am ready or not. I want people to know, I just don’t want the consequences. If everyone was like you, it would be fine…”
“Heh,” Says one of the boys, “Go on then.”
“Fine.” Orlando says, then mutters something inaudible, at the same time snatching back Hattie’s bag. All four of them run out of the restaurant hurriedly, clutching their half cold food.
Miles can hear the pounding feet on the pavement behind them as they run, sprinting as fast as they can around the corner. Orlando and Hattie take the lead but June lags behind: she isn’t as fast as the others. In a split-second decision Miles grabs her hand and pulls her along with him as they dart down a side street to get the group of boys chasing behind them off their trail.
A few minutes later they arrive at the park in the centre of town, very out of breath but having managed to escape. Orlando leads them to the corner of the park where there’s a picnic bench they can all sit on and eat the cold food that they’d managed to keep a hold of as they ran. Orlando and Hattie sit on one side, June and Miles sit on the other. They don’t seem to want to let go of each other’s hands.
“Uh, here’s your bag, Hattie… I didn’t get the chance to give it back.”
“Thanks, Orlando. Seriously, they would have given it back at some point, so you didn’t have to go through all that for me.”
“Don’t be stupid. I didn’t even tell them in the end. I was going to as well. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.” He breathes a big sigh, “I want to. I want everyone to know. I just can’t tell people.” He shakes his head, “You wouldn’t even know if you hadn’t -” He stops short, never finishing the sentence. “Never mind.” Hattie rests her hand on his shoulder comfortingly,
“I don’t think they’re listening, Orlando. Say whatever you want,” She says, gesturing across the table towards June and Miles, who are still holding hands and appear to have gotten closer to each other in the short time that Orlando was talking.
“No, I want them to know.” Orlando clears his throat to get Miles’ and June’s attention. They look at him, slightly startled after being brought out of their trance.
“I want you guys to know what my secret is.” He says bashfully, going bright red. Hattie nods at him encouragingly. “I… you’re my best friends. The best friends I’ve ever had, and the best friends I could ever wish for. I want you to know… I’m gay. Hattie only knows because she saw me with her brother. We’re going out.” He looks at Miles and June, obviously expecting a reaction of some sort.
Miles whistles slowly,
“Her brother? And she doesn’t care?” Orlando smiles and nods,
“Okay, well it’s great that you felt like you could tell us.” Miles says supportively. June has been sat in silence this whole time.
“June…?” Orlando asks, unable to hide the nerves from his voice,
“Hmm?” She asks,
“Err… you okay with that?” June nods,
“‘Course I am.” She looks confused, “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Why were you so quiet then?” Orlando asks.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? It doesn’t change anything in our friendship so I didn’t feel that there was anything to say.” She replies with a warm smile. Miles squeezes her hand under the table.
“Oh, and just in case you got the wrong idea from me… I don’t care either… I just meant it in a jokey way, like maybe Hattie was protective of her brother and…” He pauses, blushing slightly, “Sorry, I’m babbling. You get my point.”
Orlando lets out a huge sigh of relief, some of his tension visibly leaving him, taking a great weight off his shoulders.
“Thanks guys… thanks for being so supportive.” Orlando smiles and the others pretend not to notice the tears glistening in his eyes as they all tuck into their food, happy in each other’s company.