Serial fiction. Updated at 6.00am UTC on Monday and Friday.

19: Issa

The morning was going well. Not only had he felt more comfortable than ever during the usual exercises in the first hour of the theatre group but, also, Carol had been kind in a way that touched him. At the start of break most of the younger ones had, as usual, crowded around her when she opened the tuck box so they could buy their snacks – Issa hadn’t yet discovered what tuck actually was – while he had made himself a cup of milky, sweet coffee. When she was done, she came over to him and, under the pretext of praising him for his work that morning, had palmed him a bar of organic white chocolate. After an exaggerated wink, she had then gone to speak to some of the others.

Further, Issa was pleased because he had the perfect place to sit. By some strange coincidence, he had chosen next to where Oscar and his group usually gathered; indeed, most of them had trickled back from wherever they went during the first part of break, and were sitting in their usual chaotic circle. Issa had been intrigued to hear them, as he had only ever witnessed their break-time interactions from afar; this was the first time he was close enough to hear what they were saying.

So far today, it meant Charlie entertaining them with his attempts to get to know a rugby player from another school called Jake. He was in full flow.

‘Look, I’ve already said why I didn’t talk to him at the party. I was so nervous that I got completely shitfaced.’

Oscar, sat with Sienna as ever, was sceptical.

‘You? Nervous?’

‘Have you seen those biceps? They’re hypnotic. Every time I saw him I froze.’

‘Yeah, you did look like a deer trapped in the headlights.’

‘Oh, take the piss all you want, but it’s easy for you. You see, Cakes…’

Issa was confused for a moment. Cakes? He didn’t see any cakes around. Ohhh… Charlie was calling Oscar ‘Cakes’. But why?

‘…not all of us have your extreme physical beauty to rely on. Some of us have to use our undoubted wit, and cunning.’

One of the others whose name Issa couldn’t recall, a short, stocky boy with a long, wavy brown hair and an already substantial beard, intervened.

‘Can’t remember ever reading about Oscar Wilde puking in the bushes…’

‘Fuck off, Adam. At least I’m trying. Your idea of a good night is whacking off to a picture of Greta Thunberg.’

This elicited groans from some of the group, and snorts of laughter from others, including Adam.

‘What can I say? I find her inspiring. Relationships are about more than just looks, Charlie.’

Charlie was about to retort when, still grinning, Oscar raised his hands to motion them to silence.

‘This is all very entertaining, but we still haven’t even started thinking about our showcase weekend yet. Which play are we going to perform? Any thoughts?’

This led to an animated discussion in which the various group members pitched their ideas. Most of it passed Issa by – he had never heard of most of the pieces they talked about – but he was at full attention after a comment from Charlie.

‘Cakes, have you really given up on The Crucible? You’ve been wanting us to do it for so long.’

Oscar sighed.

‘I… just don’t think we could do it justice. It means too much for us to not give everything to it. You know, if we did it, how committed I’d be. Could I really ask you all to be the same, and some of the younger kids too? I’d love to do it, but I don’t know…’

He trailed off. This was surprising: it was the first time Issa had seen Oscar unsure. Then, Oscar smiled again, his usual smile, and he was back to himself.

‘Anyway, you all know I’d blast you off the stage. Why humiliate you like that?’

Charlie made retching noises, and the discussion moved on.

Issa, though, was no longer listening. He mouth was suddenly dry. Here it was, his chance, his chance to get closer to Oscar.

An idea had come to him that was so outrageous, so ambitious that he could scarcely believe it had formed in him. He would find this play, The Crucible. He would find it, and he would buy it. He would take it home, and he would read it. He would find a piece of it, a small piece, that he could learn and perform. He would perform it in front of Oscar – no, he would perform it with Oscar – and then Oscar would see, would see that Issa was someone worth talking to, and being close to. He would have given Oscar something, so Oscar could then give him something, the secret to how he so enthralled those around him, so they never did things to him, things that could not be remembered. He would do this, this afternoon, as soon as the session was over.

The final hour passed in a blur.


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